Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill

Title: The Witch's Boy
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date:
September 16, 2014
Rating: 5/5 

Cover Impressions: The cover is super cute.  I love the tiny figures with huge shadows.  I worry that the colors are not bright enough to make it stand off a shelf and hope that it doesn't stop kids from picking it up.
I love the fairy tale feel of the book blurb and the fact that the main character's mother is a witch - which is a nice divergence from the traditional tale. 

The Gist:
When Ned and his identical twin brother tumble from their raft into a raging, bewitched river, only Ned survives. Villagers are convinced the wrong boy lived. Sure enough, Ned grows up weak and slow, and stays as much as possible within the safe boundaries of his family’s cottage and yard. But when a Bandit King comes to steal the magic that Ned’s mother, a witch, is meant to protect, it's Ned who safeguards the magic and summons the strength to protect his family and community.

In the meantime, in another kingdom across the forest that borders Ned’s village lives Áine, the resourceful and pragmatic daughter of the Bandit King. She is haunted by her mother’s last words to her: “The wrong boy will save your life and you will save his.” But when Áine and Ned’s paths cross, can they trust each other long enough to make their way through the treacherous woods and stop the war about to boil over?


Having lost his twin brother in a drowning accident as they ventured out to find the sea, Ned never feels completely whole and is unable to do many of the things that he had previously taken for granted.  He has been plagued by the assumption that his father had saved the wrong boy.  His mother is a witch who uses dangerous magic and Ned is constantly faced with the townspeople who love her when they need her and loathe her when they don't.  He retreats into himself, rarely speaking and avoiding interaction with anyone, even his grief-stricken parents.  When his mother's magic is threatened by outside forces, Ned is the only one who can protect it and he is sent on a perilous journey to save himself, his family, and his village. 

The Witch's Boy is written in a beautiful style that is reminiscent of classic fairy tales.  The author displays a unique and clever sense of wit that kept me smiling to myself. 

King Ott; benevolent ruler of the Kingdowm of Duunin (of course he was benevolent! It said so on banners and placards and all of the money! He even required his generals to tattoo it on their forearms with an outline of his smiling face hovering above), was in a bit of a snit. 

There is an exchange between the bandit king and the king of Duunin, as the later calls the executioner and the former merely smiles, that had me in stitches.  At the same time, the author regularly comments on the magic, delight and power of words which is bound to warm the heart of any lover of books and reading. 

A word is a magic thing.  It holds the essence of an object or an idea and pins it to the world.  A word can set the universe in motion.  

I love middle grade stories that do not shy away from important themes and deep symbolism.  The Witch's Boy is one of these.  There is a continuous thread throughout the novel the reminds of there could not possibly be NOTHING on the other side of the mountain (in fact nothing is a very important word and becomes a refrain repeated by several characters).  The author does a beautiful job of extending this metaphor to show that there is never "nothing", even in death.  The soul never disappears, it simply moves to the next place - the other side of the mountain.

"There is no death," the Stone said.  "There is only the next thing.  A mountain gives way to a river and becomes a canyon.  A tree gives way to its rot and becomes the ground.  We will let go of our unnaturally elongated lives and embrace something else."

The characters also have a magic all their own.  By the end of the novel, we see such remarkable growth in Ned as he learns his own power and the strength of his own desires.  The magic itself also makes for a very fun character.  It has a fantastic voice as it speaks inside Ned's head.  It doesn't seem to have the same sense of morality or guilt that a human character would, which makes it much more unpredictable and enjoyable to read.

(Having been asked to heal a bandit) 
We are certain that you meant to say, "painless death."  We can say it together: "painless death." Or painful, if you prefer.  It's up to you.  Please tell us that you simply misspoke.

The plot moves at a decent pace, and is helped along by the changing of viewpoints from Ned to Aine to the King, to the Bandit King, to the Stones and so on.  There is a great deal of action that will keep any reader interested and a beautiful thread of friendship that will keep them satisfied.

Bottom Line: The Witch's Boy is wonderful.  A phenomenal addition to any middle grade library and well written enough to be enjoyed by older audiences as well.       

Teaching/Parental Notes:

10 and up 
Sex: None
Violence: Death by drowning, Death by arrow, Swordplay
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None


Post a Comment