Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Half Bad and Totally Awesome

In a new England where witches live silently amongst humans, there are two kinds of witches. Even amongst the small minority, there is prejudice. White and Black, the witches do not mix. Until, they do. In Sally Green's Half Bad, a young boy is the victim of his parentage, for White or for Black. 

Nathan's father was the evilest Black witch in the world. His mother was a White witch who committed suicide. Every year, Nathan goes for an assessment to see if he has officially coded to one side or the other, but on his seventeenth birthday, the results will no longer be inconclusive. All witches must receive three gifts from an immediate family member and drink the blood of a family witch in order to come into their gifts. For a White witch, not receiving their gifts merely means they lose their opportunity for their gift. For a Black witch, it is said they will die if they do not receive their gifts. Nathan's grandmother has tried to raise him in a White witch household, but his heritage cannot be denied. 

As a Half Code (Black and White), Nathan's final allegiance is still unsettled, but the council isn't about to let him roam about like a powder keg waiting to be lit. Decree after decree is handed down that specifically limit Nathan's comings and goings. Finally, just limiting his journeys from the house aren't enough, and he is captured and caged until his seventeenth birthday, which is years away. His captor doesn't necessarily agree with the decision, but Marcus, Nathan's father, killed her sister, so she isn't shy about her dislike of Black witches either. But nothing changes the fact that Nathan's birthday is fast approaching, and he has nobody to give him his gifts. Is he Black? Or is he White?

I know we have all lived through the Harry Potter era where witches are adorable like the Weasley clan. Sure you have a Malfoy or a LeStrange or a Voldemort in the mix, but for the most part, they are normal folks with some awesome abilities. These witches? A whole different world. I half expected a Potter-esque witch story going in, but I came out like I was ripped through the spin cycle. This is one seriously dark book! I mean, this kid is tortured. He is held in a cage and affixed with a collar full of poison. This is some pretty heavy, dark business here. 

And Nathan? I am choosing to think he wouldn't be as dark as he turns out. I feel he was made Black by the very same people who feared his Half Code. By imprisoning him and torturing him, they have created a dark individual. In fact, the brutality, the violence, the dark in this story reminded me of a somewhat tamed version of The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski. It is the single darkest book I have ever read (makes The Road look like Goodnight Moon), and Nathan just made me think of that little boy the entire time I read it. That doesn't mean this is THAT dark, but it certainly isn't any Harry Potter. Instead, this is a truly unique story that will catch the attention of your students. Especially those who have a dark side!

The implications towards prejudice and racism in this story are very thinly veiled. The decrees about Half Codes and Black witches reek of Jim Crow. You can see the allegory here, and it is incredibly interesting when juxtaposed with historical racism. I think any student will be able to make those connections without any guidance, which will give them an added layer to the story. I was really bowled over by this story, even though it was so disturbing, and I will certainly be finishing the series. 

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