Diana Wynne Jones once said that, in her first novel, she was trying to integrate the epic and mythical with the everyday, so that an ordinary child might feel that the world was full of the extraordinary–and might recognize his or herself in the story.
“The Ogre Downstairs” is a fantastically well-constructed novel, in which Jones succeeded in achieving and surpassing her earlier goal. What if a couple of kids got a hold of a magic chemistry set? Hijinks would ensue, of course. The kids have their own lives to deal with, their own problems, their own personalities and ways of coping. Throw magic into the mix, and you’ve got a boy learning empathy through body-swapping, toffees come to life and melting themselves, and the occasional marooned-on-the-roof incident.
The characters in “The Ogre Downstairs” aren’t really much larger than life, as most book characters are. They’re ordinary people, living ordinary lives. And magic comes to those lives. Incredible magic–that could be happening right across the street from you. Right now.