Cover image for Copper magic
Copper magic
Gibson, Julia Mary.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Starscape, 2014.
Physical Description:
334 pages : map ; 22 cm
"The year is 1906, and twelve-year-old Violet Blake unearths an ancient talisman -- a copper hand -- beside the stream where her mother used to harvest medicine. Violet is certain that the copper hand is magic--and if anyone is in need of its powers, it's Violet. Her mother and adored baby brother are gone, perhaps never to return. Her heartbroken father can't seem to sustain the failing farm on the outskirts of Pigeon Harbor, on the shores of Lake Michigan. Surely the magic of the copper hand can make things right for Violet and restore her fractured family. Violet makes a wish. But her ignorant carelessness unleashes formidable powers -- and her attempts to control them jeopardizes not only herself, but the entire town of Pigeon Harbor." --
General Note:
"A Tom Doherty Associates book."
Reading Level:
680 Lexile.
Format :


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Central Library J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Audubon Library J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
Clarence Library J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
Clearfield Library J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
Crane Branch Library J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
Dudley Branch Library J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
Eggertsville-Snyder Library J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
Elma Library J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
Grand Island Library J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
Orchard Park Library J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf

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Debut author Julia Mary Gibson explores turn-of-the-century Native American culture, ecology, and conservation, in her historical fiction novel, Copper Magic .

The year is 1906, and on the shores of Lake Michigan twelve-year-old Violet Blake unearths an ancient talisman--a copper hand. Violet's touch warms the copper hand and it begins to reveal glimpses of another time. Violet is certain that the copper hand is magic--and if anyone is in need of its powers, it's Violet. Her mother and adored baby brother are gone, perhaps never to return. Her heartbroken father can't seem to sustain the failing farm on the outskirts of Pigeon Harbor, on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Surely the magic of the copper hand can make things right for Violet and restore her fractured family. Violet makes a wish. But her ignorant carelessness unleashes formidable powers--and her attempts to control them jeopardizes not only herself, but the entire town of Pigeon Harbor.

In Copper Magic , land and waters are alive with memories, intentions, and impulses. Magic alters Violet and brings her gifts--but not always the kind she thinks she needs. First-time author Julia Mary Gibson brings Violet and her community to life in this impressive and assured debut.

Author Notes

JULIA MARY GIBSON was born the child of radical activist poets in the time of the Freedom Rides and the Vietnam War. She grew up to be a communard, welfare mother, waitress, secretary, visual effects producer, and mentor to unwed teens. She lives in sight of the Hollywood sign in California. Copper Magic is her first novel.

Reviews 1

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-9-It's 1906, and 12-year-old Violet Blake feels abandoned. Her half-Odawa mother and brother are away, and she fears they may never return. She goes to the place where her mother would pick herbs and unearths a magical copper hand. She wishes for a new dress. When her wish is granted, she wishes for the return of her family. Will the hand be able to bring her family back together? Narrator Sandy Rustin's detailed voices and distinct intonations are engaging and complement the author's unique writing style. Interwoven plotlines are brought together expertly with a spellbinding effect. The author's treatment of minorities, particularly Native Americans, is handled with great care. Readers who enjoy magic, adventure, historical fiction, and Scott O'Dell's books will be whisked into Violet's world.-Jessica Moody, Olympus Jr. High, Holladay, UT (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1 RAGS There wasn't one soul who knew how I made up things. I did it just for the doing of it too not just lying when you're cornered like anybody will. I used to ponder over my lies and polish them up. It was hard work and I'm not sorry. When it came to the Hand, the lies were the saving grace, and good thing I'd had practice. I found the Hand the third hot summer day. The spring had hung on too long, but when it left, it was gone for good. The first warm day made my wool dress itch me. That night I went into the wardrobe in my room and took out the dresses from the summer before. Only two of them would let me move my arms when they were buttoned up, and only one had any kind of hem to let out. When I ripped the hem to give it some length, I did it too fast and made a tear where the stitching was. It was my mother's fault. If she'd been there, she'd have spent the spring fixing up the ones that could be fixed, and making me new ones of goods we chose together. She always asked what I thought, and didn't make me wear anything I considered to be ugly, and didn't tell me it wasn't when it was. "You're growing too fast," she'd told me at the depot. "When I get back, you'll be as tall as I am." She held me hard against her. Then they had to board, and my little brother's eyes were big and scared. The train was loud, and he'd never been on one. Nor had I, but nobody invited me. The champion of the liars, is what I thought of her. She wasn't coming back and never had intended to, and she could have left me with something to wear if she cared anything about me. But certainly she didn't, and that was how it was. The next day was hotter than ever. The skirt of the hastily unhemmed dress caught on a nail when I was helping my father patch the roof. The long uneven rent would have come out a lumpy travesty if I'd tried to fix it. A blotch of tar punctuated the devastation. My father didn't notice, and wouldn't have cared if he had. My mother would have been able to salvage something from the dress, an apron or a shirt for my little brother, but I tore it into dustrags when I went in to start supper. Now I was down to a single dress that barely covered my knees. I put on water to boil for potatoes and considered appealing to my aunt Phyllis, who had money for dresses galore. But had I done so, she'd have embarked on one of her railings at my father--how I'd certainly turn out just like my mother if I wasn't taken in hand, and how did he think he could possibly raise me on his own? While the potatoes cooked I went into their room, thinking to purloin a pair of his trousers. I took up a pair that lay crumpled in the shambles. Snaky thin as he was, I'd have fit into them twice, and it was more than I knew how to do to take them in. When Aunt Phyllis saw me in them, I'd surely be snatched away and made to live with her and Uncle Fowler in their stuffy house next to the jailhouse right in the bustle of Pigeon Harbor, with no forest and no Blue Lake right nearby. The town did have the big lake at the end of Front Street, but the big lake was vast and crowded with fishing boats and freighters and steamers and ferries and tugs going in and out of the harbor. Blue Lake was quiet but for the bustlings of ducks and raccoons, and we didn't have to see anyone we didn't want to see, except for Aunt Phyllis, who came by whenever she was in the mood to make trouble. I hadn't been inside their room in a long while. The floor was crusted with mud he'd tracked in. A crumbled leaf lay dead on his pillow. My mother would have taken one look at the mildew on the windowsills from the rain leaking in and all his things strewn across the filthy floor, and she'd have turned around and left again without a word to anyone. Anyhow, she wouldn't be returning, I told myself. She had a new man, no doubt, who liked to dance and owned a big house that she didn't have to clean because he had a fleet of maids to do it. She wouldn't ever tell him that she herself had been one. Maybe that's why she hadn't taken me, so I wouldn't spill the truth by mistake. My brother was too little to know things that he shouldn't say. Kicking a boot aside, I went over to the trunk by the window where she'd always kept her scraps and remnants to make over. The trunk was the little one she'd had when she ran away from school and met my father, who swept her off her feet because he was so handsome and so funny and so serious with his wide green eyes with the dark eyelashes, the exact same as my brother's. Soon after she met him, she put everything she had in that trunk and came to live by Pigeon Harbor, the town she wound up hating, with a man who left her there all winter. Once the cherry trees began to bear, he always told her, he wouldn't have to cook for loggers. He was the best camp cook in the state, and got good pay, and his cherries would taste like wine and honey. But so far there weren't any. She was always mad when he left, but when they were together she was mad at him anyway for things he did or didn't do. It was peaceful without their snipings, but without my brother's prattle it was too quiet. I missed him all the time, even with all the work he made, the little brother I called Fry, little fish. His name was Francis really. I couldn't imagine he was happy a minute without me. When I thought of him calling out "Tister" in the night, my insides knotted up. He couldn't say "sister." I yanked on the latches of the trunk. One came open, but the other latch was twisted and bent and hurt my hand. I heard my father come in from outside. I made a quick retreat, closing the door to the bedroom softly so he wouldn't hear, and went into the kitchen. "Glue for supper?" He prodded the potatoes with the tip of a knife. "You have to keep an eye on the stove, Violet, I keep telling you." He yanked the pot from the stove. "It's too damn hot for cooking, anyway." He drained the water off, sent me to the ice house for milk and butter and to the garden for corn, which he cut from the cob and added in. "Potahhge," he pronounced it, pretending it was fancy. We ate it on the back porch. Blue Lake was asleep and there wasn't any breeze, so it was just as hot outside as in. "Those summer people won't like this heat," he said. The summer people were preachers from Chicago who'd bought up the strip of woods between us and Blue Lake. Even Aunt Phyllis didn't know when they were expected. "Are they here?" I said. "You'll know when they're here," he said. "Quacking their hymns day and night. Building cathedrals all along the beach. Teaching Bible verses to the heathen raccoons." He wasn't in favor of churches. Churches made a mockery of God, he said. And he hated summer people, because they all were rich. He hated Chicago and St. Louis and Cincinnati and anywhere that had factories that made the working man a piece of a machine and not a man, and he hated the big new hotel in Pigeon Harbor, where the owners of the factories came to get away from the blazing city summers that the workers had to sweat through. Sleep didn't come easily that night. It was hot and still, and I had no dress to wear, and I wasn't one for sewing like my mother was. My sewing always came apart, since I always did it with the speedy needle to get it over with, and I'd get stabbed for my haste, and whatever I was making always came out askew and blood-spotted. Like it or not, I had sewing to do the next day. My father went out early with a naked biscuit to ponder his trees. It was the year they were supposed to bear, but they hardly had leaves, and the cherries were small and dark and hard and rattled in the wind. Once he was out, I went into his room and raised the top of the trunk, letting the clutter on top of it fall in a heap on the floor by the window. A musty smell came at me. Everything inside was all scrambled up and haphazard. She wouldn't have left her things that way even if she didn't intend to wear them anymore. She liked everything smoothed and folded, stacked and put where it should go. I propped the trunk lid against the warped and swollen windowsill. In the tangle inside the trunk I saw a blue I recognized. I reached inside and drew out the radium silk dress with the tucks in the front she'd stitched and picked out and stitched again until they fell just the way she wanted when she had it on. It was the color of the big lake in a storm, and the white trim was like froth on the breakers. The dress was twisted up with a flannel petticoat, a white shirtwaist, green ribbons from a hat. It looked as if he'd taken out her things to cry over them or curse them, then threw them back like a string of skinny perch. I held up the blue radium silk. Mildew streaked it. The cloth was rotted through in places. Why had she left this dress behind, one she'd worked so hard on, to molder in an old trunk by a leaky window? I thought of how she'd gotten Mr. Peterssen to order the cloth. She'd sent away for samples from an advertisement in McCall's, and brought them to him when she knew Mrs. Peterssen would be upstairs with baby Clara. "It won't sell," he said. "Too fancy." But she tilted her head at him. "I'll take a good piece," she said, "and if you haven't sold it all by summer, you can triple the price and one of those ladies from the city will call it a bargain. Don't you think this one's just the shade for me? Or do you like this one?" She held the samples to her throat. He blushed like a girl. She made the dress that winter, and on Easter she wore it to the First Congregational in Pigeon Harbor. My father didn't like her taking us, but Fry and I liked the singing. They left not long after, when the ice was off the tracks and the trains were running, and she said she'd be back for my birthday--my twelfth, on the sixth of June, nineteen aught-six. The day arrived and then the evening. The last train pulled in, and they were nowhere in sight. My father's green eyes looked sad, but he pretended not to be. "They missed their connection, that's all," he said. "The tracks up north are always getting clogged up with fallen branches and polar bears and such." He made a cake for me, but left it plain. My mother would have slathered it with icing even if she had to go without tea for months to get the sugar for it. The ache in my throat made it hard to get the cake down. It wasn't until the fifteenth that a letter came. She was visiting her sister, she said, and her sister had a new baby who wasn't well and she was helping to take care of him, so the visit was taking longer than she'd planned on, and she would bring a present for me when she came home, but she didn't say when that would be. Then there was another letter that came on the twenty-first, a short one written in a hurry, and then no more word, and weeks went by, and there was no reason not to believe that she hadn't done what Aunt Phyllis said she'd done. There were plenty of rich men in the world, and my mother was beautiful enough to get one. The radium silk dress sprawled on the floor, twisted like someone strangled. Even if it hadn't been streaked and stained, the fabric was too swank for a dress to feed the chickens in. A celery green skirt huddled in the trunk, musty and rumpled worse than the blue silk. Why had she left these things if she was going to stay away forever? And if she'd gone to be with a rich man, why had she worn her work dress on the train and left her best clothes behind? There was no way around it. Georgia Blake had surely departed the earth. She wouldn't have left the radium silk if she hadn't intended on coming back, or the wine-colored jacket, or the white shirtwaist she put on to please my father, who liked how dark it made her skin, eyes, hair. As for Fry, she'd said how much he liked my mother's sisters and the children who were all related to us once or twice removed. Most likely he'd forgotten me. There was somebody else he called to in the night. The white shirtwaist had mostly escaped the damp. I slipped it on and buttoned it up. It was too long and bagged on me. I snatched the sewing box and stamped up to my room, where I sliced off the length with the help of the wardrobe mirror, snipped away the cuffs to make wide, short baggy sleeves, and used the chopped-down hem as a sash. There wasn't any need to sew the cut edges. Let them fray. Nobody would notice or care. There was no use keeping the other sodden, crumbling garments. She'd never make the green skirt over for me or scrub the ribbon pretty again. I had to be rid of her things. I thought of burning them, but they would have made a stink and my father would want to know what I was up to. I could have thrown them in Blue Lake, but our skiff had a hole in it, and without a boat I wouldn't be able to get out to any kind of depth, and if I sometime found a scrap of faded radium silk on the beach it would be too awful. So I tied everything together in a bundle with the green ribbons from the hat and went to the shed and got the shovel. I carried everything out beyond the garden and into the cool green strip of woods between our farm and Blue Lake's shore. I knew just the place. The sound of water rushing over stones led me to the spot. White birches loomed before me. Stones glistened in the stream. There was the rat root my mother often gathered, more of it than I remembered. I found a mossy patch bare of rat root and ferns. Thrusting the shovel's blade beneath the moss, I lifted it away, intending to put it back over the spot when I was done so it could keep on growing there. Everything was quiet--no wind in the birches, no birds calling to each other, no stream rushing along. I couldn't hear the waves of Blue Lake. My heart thundered. Sometimes it gets more quiet when a ghost is on the prowl. If it was my mother's ghost, it was fitting that she'd come to visit this very place, and maybe she would tell me something, as ghosts sometimes will if you don't shoo them off. But she didn't come. Nothing did. I jabbed the shovel again and shoved it down with one bare foot. The metal edge hurt, but the blade went deep. Soon there was a hole, crisscrossed with roots. I knelt to clear them away. The dirt smelled like everything that could be important was in it, nourishment and blossomings and ancient seasons. My fingers dug around the roots to loosen them, and met with something flat and hard. Treasure, I thought. Money. Maybe a lot of it. I began to work out what to buy--dresses I'd seen in McCall's, books with colored pictures, chocolates from the Greek's. I scrabbled with both hands, almost falling in the hole, and took out a flat bit of something, nothing more than a rusty old tool, I thought. Another disappointment, of course, like always. But it wasn't. I took it out and in the dim dappled light I could see it was a hand--a hand with narrow, tapered fingers and a thumb curving outward like a moon. I rubbed at the dirt caked on it and glimpsed something maybe written on its palm. If I could rinse it clean, I could see what it was. I waded along the shady stream until it gave out into Blue Lake. The lake was smooth and clear and cold, but not colder than it usually was in the middle of July. Holding the Hand by the tip of the curved thumb, I dunked it in. Dirt came off and made a cloud. I could see that it was copper now, ruddy and rich. Where I held it, the copper chilled. Cold jolted along my arm and took my breath. I was in winter. Snow covered the beach and road, white all around but for the dark trunks of trees and the blue water that was freezing me but wasn't frozen itself. So it wasn't deep winter then. From the corner of my eye I thought I saw someone. I turned to look, and saw a wrinkled lady with long white braids in a cape of white swan feathers waving in wind. She wasn't ghostly. She looked like she was really there. But then she wasn't. She'd only been a flicker, like a bird on a branch that's gone in a blink without you seeing it fly off. Maybe a glint off the lake had blinded me. Or I'd mistaken the white bark of a birch tree for white hair and feathers. The smell of cold and the white of snow were gone, and the road was the road and the trees weren't bare, and winter was like a dream that soars behind the eyes before you recognize it, and the harder you try to bring it back, the more you can't. I was well acquainted with my grandmother's ghostly lingerings, but what I'd seen wasn't like that. And the lake was often tricky, bloating my foot to make it look like a dead man's, making waves when there was no wind. Sometimes I saw and heard things--the dart of a fox when there wasn't one, someone talking in an empty room, a glowing light in the woods where nobody lived. Whenever I told my mother, she'd say I should stop making up nonsense. But the feather lady had been no trick of wind or light. I'd seen the white braids, the white swan feathered cape, the red designs sewn on the white skin dress, the spirals tattooed on her wrinkled chin. Hadn't she held the copper hand between her palms with rays of metal peeking between her fingers? Hadn't her hands been held to the snowy sky? Somehow I'd let go of the metal thumb. The Hand was sinking. Patterns were etched in copper, but with the water moving over the Hand and the Hand moving on top of the rocks and the clouds reflecting on the water, I couldn't make out the design. The water began to stir, as the lake will do when it just becomes restless for no reason you can see. The Hand drifted. I reached to seize it and it twisted away, as if to escape. But I caught it. Now it was warm, and light as a moth. Fearing that the wind would take it, I put it flat on my hand with the thumb over my thumb and the fingers on my fingers, and put my other hand on top so it was trapped between, just the way the feather lady had done. Loneliness stabbed me. Without a mother, I had nothing. I was a fallen, dried-up leaf drifting between the endless blues of lake and sky. But as I pressed the copper hand between my palms, the sadness melted. I wasn't alone in the slightest. Everything seemed--not noisier, but packed with understandings. A watery glint can be an invisible someone. Dirt can remember what happened on it. Someone's coming , a crow seemed to cry as she flew over. "Hello!" someone called. When you think you know what birds or ghostly presences are telling you, you hear them inside your mind. They're not out in the world for just anyone to hear. But this was a voice as you would know a voice to be, and sounded real. And so I suspected. It might be magic, this copper hand I'd found. Copyright © 2014 by Julia Mary Gibson Excerpted from The Copper Hand by Julia Mary Gibson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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