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Not just for kids: 'Witch & Wizard: The Gift' by James Patterson and Ned Rust

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Witch & Wizard: The Gift

A Novel

James Patterson and Ned Rust

Little, Brown: 342 pp., $17.99

Books and movies have been banned. Music, art — they too have been outlawed by an evil regime known as the New Order and its hateful leader, The One Who Is The One. Gone are the days of individualism and integrity, and with it the easy availability of cheeseburgers and rock 'n' roll.

Such is the world inhabited by teen siblings Wisty and Whit Allgood as they attempt to evade capture in "The Gift," the second installment of James Patterson's bestselling "Witch & Wizard" series for young adults. Armed only with a blank journal and a single drumstick, a wicked sense of humor and an awful ineptitude with timing, it's up to the Allgoods to cast off the shackles of oppression.

"The Gift" picks up exactly where the first book ended: With Wisty and Whit waiting to be hung by a fiend in black robes who has them shackled and onstage in a stadium crowded with thousands. A witch and wizard, respectively, the teens had been plucked from their parents' house in the middle of the night and slammed behind bars for possessing the gift of dark arts —- talents to which they were oblivious until Wisty burst into flames in a fit of rage while being taken into custody.

The teens managed to escape and join a group of underage resistance fighters, only to be recaptured. And their necks were going to be snapped and broadcast live on TV.

"Crazy is the new sane," Whit writes in an early chapter of "The Gift," which, like the series opener, tag teams between Whit's and Wisty's points of view and occasional third-person narratives to fill in any details the brother and sister haven't experienced firsthand.

Masters of evasion, though challenged by talents they can't fully control, Whit and Wisty travel between the department store where they sleep on demo beds and dine on caramel popcorn in the Freeland with a pack of other rebellious teens and the New Order Controlled-territory that's shaped suspiciously like the U.S. of A., occasionally pushing through hard walls into an otherworldly Shadowland populated with fetid creatures who, more often than not, drool.

Wisty has a better grasp of her gift of casting spells and shape-shifting than her brother, who's mostly able to conjure food. Plumbing her mind for whatever poems she learned in school and reciting them out loud helps Wisty transform herself and her brother into various beings, including a tiger, fish, birds, even octogenarians. The utilitarian value of the shape-shifting lasts only a few minutes before invariably landing them in the clutches of the One and some sort of retention facility.

The One wants the Allgoods' gifts. He needs them. For what purpose is unclear. All that's certain is whatever predicament they land in will be short-lived, outlandish and rife with comedy.

"Trust me, you don't know pain until you know what it feels like to wake up after getting nailed by a New Order tranquilizer dart. Or three. Or twelve," Wisty writes with characteristic sass. "My eyes ache like they've been loaded on rusty metal springs. My temple throbs like somebody's just nailed a red-hot horseshoe around the inside of it. The back of my head pulses like somebody's trying to inflate it with a bicycle pump."

Dialogue-heavy and action-packed, the writing throughout is inventive and colorfully detailed. Written in a conversational tone by Patterson and co-author Ned Rust, it's as if the reader's craziest best friend was recounting a wildly apocryphal tale, and doing so for about four hours, which is about how long it takes to read the book. It's easy to visualize the story, which may explain why movie rights to this series have already been snatched up.

susan.carpenter@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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