A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Spellbound is the second installment in The Books of Elsewhere, a magical middle-grade series that includes witchcraft and fantasy violence that began with The Shadows. For example, a pair of disembodied hands attempt to strangle a cat; Olive nearly dies when, under a spell, she sleepwalks towards the edge of her roof; and a witch strangles Olive and Morton, threatening to burn them to death (the same witch does burn another woman to death, although she is actually a painting, not a living human). Readers OK with some creepy haunted house stuff and a menacing tone will find a thoughtful message: Misfit Olive wants a place to belong, and often forgets her loved ones and makes bad choices in the process. But she ultimately figures out what's really worth fighting for, apologizes, and does everything in her power to do what's right. She's a pretty likable character and easy to root for, though some parents may be bothered by Olive's lack of math skills being a running joke throughout.
What's the story?
Readers of The Shadows, the first book in the Books of Elsewhere series, will find familiar ideas here, including talking cats, magical paintings that Olive can travel in and out of, and witches who want their house back. Olive thought she had heard the last of the McMartins, the evil witches who lived in the mansion before her family moved in -- and whom she faced off in the first installment. But when the 11-year-old misfit finds their spellbook, she becomes obsessed with its power, hating to be away from the book and even sleeping with it at night. Suddenly, she is making many bad choices, including experimenting with a spell, betraying her talking feline friends, and forgetting to help her friend Morton, who's still trapped in a painting in her house and quite lonely. Then, she unearths the spirit of Annabelle McMartin from its shallow grave.
Is it any good?
As in The Shadows, there are plenty of creepy details about the haunted house, magical ideas, and fun dialogue from the talking cats to please series fans. Readers will appreciate that Books of Elsewhere author Jacqueline West gives this volume a distinct story. Here, Olive becomes obsessed with doing magic herself and starts becoming like the evil McMartins. This plays well with themes raised in the first book: Misfit Olive wants a place to belong, and often forgets her loved ones and makes bad choices in the process. These are themes that even non-magical tweens can certainly relate to.
Also, readers might be too caught up in the adventure leading up to a tense final faceoff to notice the lyrical language, but author West is a an award-winning poet, and her writing is often quite beautiful. ("She floated like milkweed. Dewy breezes played with the ends of her hair.") Hopefully, readers will spend more time appreciating her prose when they reread this one. This is a volume they surely will want to read again and again.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Olive's obsession with the spellbook and the impact her obsession has on the way she treats her friends. Does Olive's obsession with the book remind you of any other magical obsessions -- like, say, in The Lord of the Rings?
What does Olive's story demonstrate about how our obsessions with power (or popularity, money, etc.) cloud our judgment?
Is it different reading about violence -- even murder -- when it involves witches and spells than reading about more realistic violence and murder?
- Author: Jacqueline West
- Illustrator: Poly Bernatene
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Dial Books
- Publication date: July 12, 2011
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 13
- Number of pages: 304
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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