A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers will get a feel for early 20th century New York City: how working-class women lived in tenements and worked countless hours every day, how New Yorkers dressed, got around, and where they went. The story specifically explains about 1911's Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, and the rise of the labor movement.
Strong messages of courage, perseverance, and teamwork -- in particular the sisterhood of the young witches who work together to defeat a common enemy.
Positive Role Models
Frances is brave, curious, and loyal. She loves her brother and wants to uncover the mystery of his death. She's attached to her friends and wants to help protect them. Maxine and Lena are devoted friends to Frances and protect the other girls at the school. Oliver is quick-thinking and courageous.
The cast of characters is diverse racially, ethnically, and in regards to sexual orientation. Haxahaven includes a Native American witch who just wants to return to her family after having survived an Indian Boarding School. There's a popular LGBTQ+ character. Various characters have ethnic backgrounds: Black, Irish, Italian, Dutch, etc.
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Violence & Scariness
The story has a high body count: people are killed in magical combat, with guns, via bludgeoning, and with knives. There's a secret club where people engage in bare-knuckle boxing that leads to injuries. A sexual assault ends with the perpetrator killed. Major and secondary characters are severely injured or even killed. Two survivors describe the fire that killed their many coworkers.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Mostly kissing, but also one make-out scene on a bed that's described as urgent, desperate, and full of longing. It's clear one young witch has had sexual and romantic relationships with more than one fellow Haxahaven witch. Discussions of what the options are for "ruined" women. A young woman is discovered on her bed.
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Occasional but not frequent language: "son of a bitch," "s--t," "goddamn," "damn," "what the hell," "stupid," "idiot."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults and older teens drink on occasion: at dinners, receptions, and in secret. After drinking too much, the characters have hangovers, headaches, and get sick. In a couple of scenes, men smoke cigars or cigarettes.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that author Sasha Peyton Smith's The Witch Haven is a historical paranormal thriller following 17-year-old protagonist Frances Hallowell, a seamstress in 1911 Manhattan who, after a traumatic event, discovers she's a witch. The story includes references not only to historical locales but also events like the infamous 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the impact of abusive Indian Boarding Schools, and the lack of agency young women (especially those without fathers, brothers, or husbands) had in the early 20th century. The language occasionally turns salty ("goddamn," "s--t," "son of a b-tch"), and adults (and older teens) drink at parties and in secret together. The body count is high, with paranormal and weapons-based violence, but the sex is mostly suggestive and lingering looks and feelings of desire, except for a makeout scene on a bed. Teens interested in the time period may feel encouraged to read about the real events described in the book.
Is It Any Good?
Character-driven page-turner is part thriller, part historical fantasy, and its story about young woman learning to claim her magical power is hard to resist. Frances isn't always the traditionally lovable "chosen one" protagonist. She can be alternately impulsive, stubborn, selfish, and unthinking at times, but she's also clever, skilled, loyal, and protective of all she's loved. Frances is surrounded by fascinating friends at Haxahaven, and Smith does well by the supporting characters giving them all interesting backstories and motivations. Lena is particularly compelling as a Native American witch who appreciates what she's being taught but more than anything would like to return to her own community. As a young woman of color, her experience stands apart from the "White ethnic" witches and sorcerers.
The romance, which sets up a fairly obvious love triangle, seems skewed in favor of brooding and mysterious Finn (what love triangle doesn't favor the intense and edgy guy over the clean-cut and kind one?) rather than "Ivy League Oliver," who's neither magical nor gifted with a sexy accent (Finn boasts a memorable Irish brogue). While this isn't strictly speaking a romance, the love story features prominently in the plot. One of the best parts of the story is how well the author weaves in researched facts and details about life in 1911 New York City, whether it's the tree-lined streets of Forest Hills, Queens or the blue-collar bustle of the Lower East Side. The sisterhood of the young witches will appeal to readers who appreciate feminist-themed books, and the ending is just open enough to hint at the possibility of a sequel.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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