A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
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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?
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.
Talk to your kids 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?
Themes & Topics
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