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The Thickety: A Path Begins



Thrilling, brilliant witch tale is vividly violent, scary.

What parents need to know

Educational value

A Path Begins invites readers to consider historic persecutions of witches (such as the Salem Witch Trials), as well as the issues that develop in a society run by an organized religion. Author J.A. White's compelling, highly literate style will improve many readers' vocabularies, especially the frequent use of "grimoire" (a magic textbook). English teachers will swoon with joy reading the sentence in which he uses "penultimate" correctly.

Positive messages

Strong messages of family love and loyalty, friendship, courage, self-sacrifice, trying to find the right path and follow it.

Positive role models

Kara's brave, devoted to her family, and struggles to do the right thing in situations where there are often no good choices, as when she kills a man who's about to kill her brother. Her brother, Taff, is a sickly 6-year-old, but he loves his sister, and his unique insights frequently come in handy. Most adult characters are either weak or actively evil, but some women in the community show kindness to Kara.


Not surprisingly for a book that begins with the child protagonist forced to watch her mother being killed as a witch and narrowly escaping the same fate herself, A Path Begins includes many vivid, horrific scenes of violent attacks, dismemberment, and gruesome death. Monsters and supernatural beings abound, and damned souls pull a character down to hell with them after she's cast one spell too many. Protagonist Kara is never safe from people who want to kill her, even when things look most benign. A character's father urges a mob to kill her. An evil character says that people like Kara's sickly brother should "just get their necks broken. It's better that way. ... We don't have space to waste on the sickly." Kara escapes an attacker with "a well-placed kick to his manhood."


Kara gives a male friend a quick kiss.


"Damn" is used in the religious sense.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some villagers are described as consuming, and smelling of, "moondrink."

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Thickety: The Path Begins, first volume in debut author J.A. White's fantasy series, is brilliantly imagined, compellingly written, and may be far too harrowing for sensitive kids. While the publisher recommends the book for 8 and up, we recommend caution: It opens with 6-year-old Kara forced to watch her mother being hanged as a witch and narrowly escaping the same fate herself. Good and evil characters meet horrible fates, magical and otherwise, from being devoured by assorted creatures to being snatched away by the souls of the damned. The story's set on an island colonized by a religious sect that preaches hard work and obsessively persecutes magic, which it sees not only in witchcraft but in even expressing a wish. Raised -- and shunned -- within this culture, 12-year-old Kara struggles to understand her strange powers and use them ethically, and to protect what's left of her family. For adults and kids who can handle the darker stuff, it's a riveting read with strong positive values. But if you doubt your kid's ready for this, you might want to wait a bit.

What's the story?

As THE THICKETY: A PATH BEGINS opens, 6-year-old Kara is carted off in the dead of night to not only witness her mother being killed as a witch but also narrowly escape the same fate herself. Later, at 12, growing up in a society defined by a religious sect's persecution of magic -- from witchcraft and spells to simply saying "I wish" -- she struggles with the growing realization that she, too, has magical powers that could get her killed. But they could also make her life, and that of her beloved, sickly brother, Taff, a good deal better in a town that persecutes them as witch's children. Adding to her fears: a strange encounter with the demon who lives in the forest and seems very interested in her.

Is it any good?


First-time novelist J.A. White delivers a riveting story with compelling characters and numerous plot reversals in vivid, literate language that's accessible and inviting rather than pompous. Young readers, especially the more thoughtful ones, will relate to feisty, courageous Kara, her love for her brother, Taff, and her murdered mom, her affinity with animals, and her struggles to find her own path. They'll ponder compelling issues of right and wrong under impossible conditions. There's enough vivid violence and pure malevolence in this tale to seriously upset and possibly terrify more sensitive readers, so if your kid is vulnerable to scary stuff, this might be too much.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why books about witchcraft are so popular. How does The Thickety compare with other such tales you've read?

  • Do you agree with Kara's realization that it's evil to force another being to do your will? Kara's worried about magic, but how else might this come up in real life?

  • What can stories set in a fantasy world tell us about our own? Do you see parallels in real life to Kara's struggles?

Book details

Author:J.A. White
Illustrator:Andrea Offerman
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Brothers and sisters, Friendship, Great boy role models, Great girl role models, Misfits and underdogs, Monsters, ghosts, and vampires
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Katherine Tegen Books
Publication date:May 6, 2014
Number of pages:496
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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