Half Bad

Common Sense Media says

Exciting witchy fantasy is riveting but grim and violent.

Age

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Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Educational value

There are other books that talk of good and evil/black and white witches, with some similarity in witch lore (like the bit about eating a witch's heart to gain her abilities). Readers can compare the lore here with other stories.

Positive messages

Half Bad explores themes of identity and nature vs. nurture through the struggle of main character Nathan, who's half white witch and half black witch. Nathan often angrily asks how the white witches can think they're on the side of right when they're responsible for so much torture and killing. The ultimate message is accept who you are. 

Positive role models

You're not going to find a role model in Nathan. He's understandably angry after the white witches are through with him and often acts out. But he's incredibly resilient and loyal to the few people he trusts. And insists that he doesn't want to become a killer, no matter the expectations. When he needs to steel to survive he won't prey on the already weak. 

Violence

The main character, Nathan, is a witch and a minor who's treated horribly for most of the book. He's beaten repeatedly, held down and branded, held captive with an acid wristband and neckband -- the wrist band nearly eats through his wrist, forced to strip monthly for inspections, given tattoos that pierce bone, and chained to the bottom of a van on a journey where he's forced to sit in his own sick and pee. When he escapes his problems aren't over. He's constantly hiding and gets shot. There are two sad deaths and the deaths of a few enemies. This particular brand of witch culture is pretty violent overall. There's much talk of a war between white and black witches where black witches are constantly hunted, tortured, and killed. One story involves a black witch going mad and biting off her own tongue. Lots of talk of Nathan's father, a notorious black witch who has killed 193 witches and eaten many of their hearts to absorb their special powers. He also killed the father of Nathan's half-siblings and, because of her involvement with him, Nathan's mother was coerced into committing suicide when Nathan was young.

Sex

Some kissing, and many fantasies about kissing an undressing the same girl afterward. A handful of scenes of nonsexual nudity -- Nathan is stripped for inspection repeatedly and goes skinnydipping in a lake and is rescued by a girl while still naked.

Language

"S--t" a few times, "bitch," "bloody," "bloody hell," "dumb ass," "piss off," "hell," and one instance of "f***" spelled with the asterisks.

Consumerism

Mentions of the movie Enter the Dragon and Nikes.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A few scenes of heavy smoking -- with mention of Marlboros -- mostly by a minor teen character but Nathan picks up the habit in his presence. Plus talk of a witch getting drunk in sorrow.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Half Bad is the start of a fantasy trilogy about witches that the publisher is marketing to ages 12 and up. However, the amount of violence here and the overall edginess of the content make it pretty consistent with books most publishers aim toward the more mature YA crowd; high schoolers, not middle schoolers. The main character, Nathan, endures some pretty horrific treatment. He's beaten repeatedly, held down and branded, held captive with an acid wristband that almost eats through his wrist, given tattoos that pierce down to the bone, and chained to the bottom of a van and forced to sit in his own sick and pee. Fistfights are plentiful and bloody. A war between white and black witches has led to many murders over the years and the atmosphere is hunt or be hunted, and capture, torture, then kill; a dark world to inhabit. After what Nathan endures, he wonders why the white witches can still consider themselves the good side. Other mature content includes a few scenes of heavy smoking by minors and handfuls of strong language, mostly "s--t," with one instance of "f***" spelled just like that.

What's the story?

Nathan is a young witch who lives with his grandmother and half siblings. His father, a notorious black witch, killed the father of the other children and, it's said, persuaded his mother, a white witch, to commit suicide before deserting Nathan. Nathan is the only half black, half white witch he knows and is constantly persecuted for it -- by a council of witches who force him into monthly interrogations and strip searches, and by teen white witches who beat him and worse when Nathan gets too close to their sister. He's warned by an elderly witch to go into hiding before the council subjects him to even worse, but is captured anyway. The council sends him to be "educated" by a brutal white witch who locks him in a cage. Nathan realizes he must find a way out before he turns 17. On his birthday, he must be given three gifts and drink the blood of his ancestors to get his witch's gift and keep from going mad. Will his long-absent father finally come for him?

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

For the first two-thirds of HALF BAD, there's no putting it down. Starting the story in the midst of the action was a great choice. Readers wonder how Nathan got captured and who the nasty witch is holding him as they flash back to his childhood. Secrets about his infamous baddie father emerge slowly, making the pages turn faster still. You don't want Nathan to feel so attached to him, but how can he help it? How can it end well for this abused and ostracized kid? It's a nail-biter until he makes his escape.

The last third is still exciting, but it seems more focused on setting up the sequel. The appearance of one character seems too convenient and the disappearance of a few seem too hasty. A minor quibble, though, in a mature fantasy debut that ain't half bad -- more like half brilliant. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about white witches and black witches and gray areas. Why do the white witches consider themselves good? Why does Nathan think they are very wrong?

  • Why are books about witches so popular? What others have you read? How does this one compare? 

  • What do you think about the trilogy so far? Will you read the next one? What clues does the author leave about the next installment?

Book details

Author:Sally Green
Genre:Fantasy
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Sports and martial arts, Brothers and sisters
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Viking Juvenile
Publication date:March 4, 2014
Number of pages:416
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17
Available on:Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of Half Bad was written by

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