Born of Illusion, Book 1

Common Sense Media says

Intriguing tale of magician's true powers in '20s New York.





What parents need to know

Educational value

Readers will get a solid sense of 1920s New York and also learn about famed magician Harry Houdini.

Positive messages

Strong messages about friendship, family, love, responsiblity, integrity, and self-respect.

Positive role models

Anna Van Housen is a wonderful role model for girls. She's traveled throughout the country with her mother, performing magic and thrilling audiences with her impressive skills. Despite not getting along with her mother, she still loves her and will protect her at all costs, even if it means risking her own life. Anna's also a good friend to Cole and his elderly cousin Mr. Darby. Cole is also a positive role model, as he always rushes to Anna's aid and protects her.


There's very little violence in Born of Illusion. However, two main characters are kidnapped and beaten up by their captors. A secondary character causes a violent outburst with screaming. Two characters carry a gun, and Anna carries a knife for protection.


Two brief kissing scenes, mild flirting, and hand-holding.


"Bitch," "bastard," "damn."


A few old-time New York restaurants, theaters, and stores are mentioned.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Anna drinks. Adults drink and smoke. 

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Born of Illusion is the first novel in a magical series. It features a strong main character in 16-year-old Anna Van Housen, a magician who's been told her whole life she's the illegitimate daughter of Harry Houdini. Anna's mother, a "medium" who performs onstage alongside her daughter, is a fraud and a con woman who conducts seances in their home. Anna's often embarrassed by her mother and at odds with her; they bicker throughout the book. There's some romance (a love triangle, two kissing scenes) and violence (kidnapping, getting knocked unconscious) and some strong language ("bitch," "bastard," "damn"). Anna and adult characters drink. Adult characters smoke; Anna holds a cigarette but doesn't light it.

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What's the story?

Anna Van Housen, at 16, finally feels as if she's made a home for herself in New York City. Throughout her life she's traveled the country as a magician in her mother's stage act, while keeping a secret from her mother: She has visions and can see future events unfold, and she uses this ability in her magic tricks. Anna loves her mother but also distrusts her for pretending to speak to the dead -- raising people's hopes by taking their money. Anna would rather they find another source of income to survive. Since she was a child, Anna has believed she's the illegitimate daughter of Harry Houdini. But now that she's older, she starts questioning whether that notion was just one of her mother's string of lies. Anna finds comfort in new friends Cole, his elderly cousin Mr. Darby, wealthy socialite Cynthia, and playboy Owen. But soon Anna's visions start become all too real and hit closer to home. She must figure out a way to understand their meaning before they put her friends and family in jeopardy.

Is it any good?


BORN OF ILLUSION is a fun and entertaining book. Anna Van Housen is an interesting character, and the complex relationship with her mother is compelling. Anna's relationship with Cole is a light romance and a charming side story. The mystery is somewhat predictable, but it will keep readers turning the pages. The ending wraps up nicely and doesn't have a huge cliffhanger, but readers will be intrigued enough to want to read Book 2.

Author Teri Brown does a great job of making the characters seem as if they are living in 1920s New York. Appearances of real-life historical figures Harry Houdini and gangster Arnold Rothstein add flavor and context. Anna explains how she does her magic tricks, which is fun, too.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what you would do if you were told you were the daughter of a famous person? Would you try to contact him or her? How does Houdini's fame compare with today's media celebrities? 

  • Why do you think stories about love triangles are so popular? What do you think of Anna's relationships with Cole and Owen? 

  • Anna and her mother are jealous of each other and have a have a love-hate relationship.  What do you think of their relationship? Why do you think parent-child conflicts are so common in books and movies? What others stand out in your mind? 

Book details

Author:Teri Brown
Genre:Historical Fiction
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Friendship, Great boy role models, Great girl role models, History, Monsters, ghosts, and vampires
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Balzer + Bray
Publication date:June 11, 2013
Number of pages:373
Publisher's recommended age(s):13 - 17
Available on:Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, Nook

This review of Born of Illusion, Book 1 was written by

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  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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