Sally Green's Half Bad is the kind of book you stay up all night to finish. The book follows Nathan, the son of a White witch and the world's most powerful Black witch, in a world where only White witches are truly accepted. Trapped and regulated by the council of White witches, Nathan is persecuted and mistreated in the name of White witch safety and well-being. On every witch's seventeenth birthday, they must receive three gifts from a blood relation in order to come into their full power. Nathan, as a potential threat to White witches, is forbidden from receiving his gifts without council approval, even though legend says that without three gifts, a Black witch will die. Nathan must therefore escape the council's control, find the elusive father who abandoned him, and convince his father to perform the Giving ceremony, all before his seventeenth birthday.
Nathan is a great character. He feels real; his motivations and thoughts are easily understood. That's what makes the actions of the White witch council so hard to bear; the reader knows that Nathan is a good guy who is just trying to figure out where he belongs in life, but the council cannot see him as anything more than the son of a Black witch. We are forced to watch this unjust persecution of an innocent, and Green really makes you feel for Nathan.
The witch society in Half Bad is well-crafted and interesting. The corruption and bias are evident throughout the story, and though you know the council is wrong in what they are doing, it only makes them more threatening. Prejudice against Black witches and against Nathan in particular is found outside of the council as well. Nathan must deal with both child and adult White witch bullies whose word will always be trusted over his own. Even in his own home, Nathan sometimes has to deal with White witch prejudice and cruelty at the hands of his sister. It's a fate that many can relate to.
Green surrounds Nathan with a wonderful cast of characters, from his loveable half brother to his indomitable yet strangely kind jailer. Nathan is a naturally trusting person, but due to his circumstances, he must deal with certain trust issues and the idea that trusting the wrong person could lead to his death. He is forced into constant vigilance and suspicion, which leaves him lonely and isolated. Green beautifully shows how this isolation affects Nathan, who, after all, is only seventeen years old. Having no one to turn to in hard times takes it toll on anyone, and Nathan is no exception.
Overall, the story is engaging and wonderfully told. The book his hard to put down, and you'll find yourself rooting for Nathan from the start. It really makes you think about how our preconceived notions of people inform the way we look at their words and actions. Nathan is shoved into a stereotype for Black witches, and no matter what he does to change this impression, he cannot change it. The council judges him based on their perceptions of his intentions rather than what his intentions actually are, and it reminds us that sometimes we have to examine our own biases and give people the benefit of the doubt. I'd recommend it to fans of Divergent, The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, or similar series, as it contains similar action and storylines, but with a sprinkling of magic thrown in.
Half Wild, the second book in the Half Bad trilogy is available now!
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Published: Speak - January 13th, 2015
“An enthralling fantasy in the Harry Potter tradition.”— Time magazine
“A bewitching new thriller.” — The Wall Street Journal
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Published: Viking Books for Young Readers - March 24th, 2015
The powerful and riveting second book in the Half Bad trilogy.