50 pages 1 hour read

Kristin Hannah

Magic Hour: A Novel

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2006

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Summary and Study Guide


Magic Hour is a 2010 novel by Kristin Hannah. Hannah is an award-winning novelist who is best known for her historical fiction novel, The Nightingale. Magic Hour blends elements of drama and romance with Hannah’s background in psychology to delve into the complexities of the human psyche. The novel follows a child psychiatrist named Julia Cates, who returns to her hometown after a career setback to treat Alice, a traumatized child who cannot communicate with anyone. Magic Hour explores themes of trauma and abuse, the challenges of recovery, and the search for identity and community.

This study guide refers to the 2010 Ballantine Books print edition.

Content Warning: This source material contains stereotypes and derogatory phrases about people with autism, as well as depictions of child abuse, mass shootings, and mental illness.

Plot Summary

Dr. Julia Cates is a child psychiatrist who lives in Los Angeles. A year earlier, her patient, Amber Zuniga, shot multiple teenagers in a church and then died by suicide. Julia faces a lawsuit from the victim’s parents because they believe she should have known Amber’s intentions and warned the church. However, the judge rules in Julia’s favor and dismisses the lawsuit. Since the media covers Julia’s case closely, she loses her practice because her clients no longer trust her.

In Rain Valley, Washington, Sheriff Ellie Barton discovers a six-year-old girl in a tree. She does not speak, and the police sedate her to take her to the hospital. Dr. Max Cerasin examines the girl and tells Ellie that she has severe scarring and marks that indicate that someone tied her with a rope. Max puts the girl in a room by herself, but she hides under the bed and bites the nurses when they come near her. Ellie calls her sister, Julia, to come to Rain Valley to help the girl.

Julia works with the girl, whom she names Alice, and brings her back to Ellie’s house. Over the next few weeks, Julia gets Alice to trust her, even though she still refuses to speak. The media pressures Ellie to get Alice to talk so they can discover what happened to her, especially since Alice’s DNA does not match any of the existing missing children’s cases. Julia wonders if she will ever be able to help Alice, but when doctors and researchers show up at her door to examine her, Julia tells them to leave because she does not want Alice to be studied like a lab rat.

After the researchers leave, Julia knows that she is Alice’s only hope for recovery. She takes Alice outside, where Alice finally speaks and tells Julia to stay with her. As Alice speaks, Julia realizes that her speech is at the level of a two-year-old, which she believes is when Alice’s trauma happened to her. After the next few months, Julia grows so attached to Alice that she decides to adopt her.

George Azelle, Alice’s father, arrives in Rain Valley. He says that Alice’s real name is Brittany. The police accused George of killing his wife Zoë and his daughter Brittany and imprisoned him, but the state released him due to a lack of evidence. George tells Julia that he is innocent and that a neighbor saw a man loitering in front of George’s house with a yellow raincoat on, whom George believes is the perpetrator. Julia does not know if she can trust him, and she does not want to give custody to a man who could have murdered his wife.

Ellie tells Julia that George will receive custody of Alice because he is her father. However, she suggests that they ask Alice to show them where she was held captive in case the evidence proves that it was George. Julia fears putting this pressure on Alice, but she agrees. The next day, Alice guides them through the forest to the site where she was held captive. Ellie investigates the area and finds a trunk with a yellow raincoat inside. She realizes that George was right about the man in front of his house on the day of the abduction. Alice then shows Julia where Zoë is buried.

Afterward, George receives full custody of Alice. As he takes Alice away, she tries to hold on to Julia. In the car, Alice tells George that she thinks Julia gave her away because she was a bad girl. Shortly after, he brings Alice back to Julia because he cannot control her, and he does not want her to think that they are punishing her. He tells Julia that he will give her full custody. Julia promises Alice that she will never be alone again.

Nine months later, Julia takes Alice to her first day of school. She tells Ellie that Max asked her to marry him, and she has decided to start a new practice in town. Julia feels glad that she finally returned to Rain Valley.

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