Honest and lively YA book reviews
I'm very confused as to why anyone would compare Half Bad by Sally Green to Harry Potter. How did this occur? There is literally nothing here that is in any way similar in the slightest to Harry Potter. Like, not even a little bit. Not even a microscopic piece. Therefore, being disappointed in Half Bad because you were expecting Harry Potter is really rather bizarre. Yeah. Don't do that.
So I took my horse up onto the hills the other week. This is the first time I've been able to do this with him in a long time as the weather had been bad. When I talk about my horse I'm not talking about a little smiling, round-bellied pony. My horse is a fire breathing dragon - a pumped up, arrogant show jumper with an opinion that is unfortunately often different to my own. As soon as his hooves hit the grass at the bottom of the first hill he was bouncing, every muscle coiled, a mad glint in his eye. What happened next was purely a lack of judgement on my part. I said to him you wanna go, you go - I dropped the reins slack and booted him in the ribs. Please don't ask me what the hell was going through my mind when I suggested that this 1500lb creature with a wicked sense of humour and a responsibility for my well-being aim for a flat out gallop, but I did. Unfortunately horses are highly unpredictable and instead of riding off into the sunset with the wind in our hair my horse decided he was going to pretend he was at the rodeo and proceeded to kick and buck like there was no tomorrow. I'm talking back hooves over his head, twisting every which way, just broncing. For some reason I was taken completely by surprise and didn't have a hope in hell staying on the madman's back and therefore went sailing off rather ungracefully, landing in a very awkward heap on the ground while my now ecstatically pleased with himself horse disappeared over the horizon, leaping about triumphantly. I was black and blue. Nobody ever told me that there are rocks on that hill. And when you fall onto rocks it hurts.
Reading Half Bad felt like falling hard onto those rocks all over again. This book beat me up. It punched me right in the feels.
Half Bad is the rather brutal story of Nathan, a boy half white witch, half black witch. In this reality witches live alongside fains, or regular people (muggles if we have to go there) and consist of white witches - the supposed good guys - and black witches - the feared and ostracised. Nathan is the first of his kind and labelled a half code. His mother was a much respected white witch, his father the most hated and murderous black witch in English history. The witch's government is wary of Nathan, afraid of what he will become and hellbent on imposing suffocating controls on him. Nathan must escape the clutches of the white witch government before his seventeenth birthday in order for him to receive three gifts and the blood of his ancestors or he will never grow into a mature witch, instead becoming sick and dying a horrible death. There's many scrapes along the way - lots of running and jumping, gunshots and knives.
This book is very intense in it's brutality. It's not a happy book. The pain inflicted on Nathan is at times horrific:
"He puts the point back into my left shoulder blade and I clench my jaw and scream while he makes another cut.
He stops again and says, “You should have listened to him.”
He makes another slow cut.
And I am going mad screaming and praying for someone to make him stop.
But he makes another cut and then another and all I can do is scream and pray."
This goes on and on. And on and on and on. And then on some more. Sally Green does not shy away from stomach churning descriptions of beatings, imprisonment and torture:
""You nearly lost your hand."
It's lying on the kitchen table still attached to your arm by bone, muscle and sinew that are visible in the open raw groove around your wrist. The skin that used to be there has formed lava-like rivulets, running down to your fingers as if it has melted and set again. Your whole hand is puffing up nicely and hurts like ... well, like an acid burn. Your fingers twitch but your thumb is not working."
But to be perfectly honest it never feels gratuitous and it never feels out of place. This is the story of Nathan's life from day one until the day he turns seventeen and I think Sally Green does a fabulous job conveying the hardships he has endured. There is a distinct undertone of racist persecution. There is no reason for Nathan to be treated the way he is - he never shows any sign of rebellion or vindictive actions, and yet from the very beginning the world is out to get him. There are very unclear and vague reasons as to why the black witches in this book are bad aside from some very brief ancient history and this only serves to make the treatment of them feel even harsher - they are punished because they are different, and because they do not fit with the majority. As we get to know Nathan we see he is just a boy trying to discover his place. As he meets black witches in his area we learn that they are in fact very similar - passionate, out spoken and different. But does this make them bad people? In fact, the book suggests that the white witches are the ones to be feared as they work to seek out and hunt down the black witches who are often times just living their goddam lives. There's nothing wrong with being different. Everyone had the right to make a decision about their own lifestyle choice. Half Bad is a portrayal of what it's like to be on the receiving end of victimisation for doing no more than not matching up with society's idea of what is correct.
"Hunters are the elite group of White Witches employed by the Council to hunt down Black Witches in Britain. Gran says they are employed by other Councils in Europe more and more as there are so few Blacks left in Britain. Hunters are mainly women, but include a few talented male witches. They are all ruthless and efficient."
Nathan is such a sad narrator. He holds very little hope for his future as he is bullied, forced to comply and punished needlessly again and again. He is really not smart. He cannot read or write. He views the world in a very simplistic way, and the more he is treated like a criminal, the more bitter and cynical he becomes. His narration is easy to follow, fact based and reasonably well paced. I liked Nathan very much. There's an endurance to his voice - he's just getting through one day at a time, trying to stay alive. It's depressing as fuck. The whole book is very dark and I can understand why this would not appeal to some. I loved the writing though. It's very honest and raw and kept very basic to mirror Nathan's lack of insight and critical thinking. I feel like it's easy to feel an affiliation with Nathan as he is just a boy trying to live the best life he can. He's very confused about good and evil and where he stands:
"You aren’t evil, Nathan. Nothing about you is evil. You will have a powerful Gift—we can all see that—but it’s how you use it that will show you to be good or bad."
There's no black and white when it comes to good versus evil, but rather a fuzzy grey line between the two. Nathan learns this on his journey as he realises that perhaps the white witches aren't to be revered and idolised, that perhaps they have more capacity for evil than he'll ever have. It a well worn concept but executed in a very original and captivating way.
I feel like some readers will be disappointed by the lack of magic in a book touted as paranormal adventure featuring witches. Yeah, it's tru fax - their ain't a whole lotta magic. But really, I think this is appropriate as the book focusses on prejudices, control and hatred - not on fancy tricks and brooms sweeping the floor on their own. Nathan is afraid to be himself, afraid of what he is capable of, afraid even to say his own father's name with the connotations it carries. He is not able to explore his limitations and discover how powerful he is because a bunch of self-righteous racists have him chained in a cage for years. This is the central theme of the story - Nathan never reaches his potential because society tells him he has no potential.
I really liked this book and I'm excited to see where the author will take the rest of the series.
See y'all after !!