An angsty New York teenager is swept down a strange back alley, invited to take a special test, discovers a latent capacity for magic, and as a result gains entry to a secret university. Harry Potter much? Well, not quite - this one takes place in New York, and the students are in college. Also, the book is written for an adult audience.
But the parallels are a bit distracting as a reader, and honestly Grossman's writing doesn't hold up well to a comparison with Rowling. The book felt thin, and yet at the same time much too large. It covers six or seven years total - and a lot happens in that time - and yet because there's so much to cover, nothing gets much attention. It felt like we're reading the first run-through of what the author hopes will become a series, but we've gotten it before the writer has taken the time to break it up into more than one book and to flesh out the story and characters.
The final section - where the gang finds a way into the magic land of a favorite children's book series - is anticlimactic in its desultory plotting. It feels impermanently tacked onto the prior three-quarters of the book, which focus mostly on Q's internal struggles.
A friend gave me this book after she just couldn't get into it. While I did read the whole thing, I thoroughly understand her surrender. There is a sequel, "The Magician King," but I think I'll take a pass on that one.