Title: The Witch’s Boy
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Publishing Information: September 16th 2014 by Algonquin Young Readers
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Adventure
Series Information: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Source: Obtained an ARC from the publisher via Netgalley
Recommended For: Readers looking for a middle grade novel filled with self discovery and friendship with a perfect blend of darkness and hope.
When Ned and his identical twin brother tumble from their raft into a raging, bewitched river, only Ned survives. Villagers are convinced the wrong boy lived. Sure enough, Ned grows up weak and slow, and stays as much as possible within the safe boundaries of his family’s cottage and yard. But when a Bandit King comes to steal the magic that Ned’s mother, a witch, is meant to protect, it’s Ned who safeguards the magic and summons the strength to protect his family and community.
In the meantime, in another kingdom across the forest that borders Ned’s village lives Áine, the resourceful and pragmatic daughter of the Bandit King. She is haunted by her mother’s last words to her: “The wrong boy will save your life and you will save his.” But when Áine and Ned’s paths cross, can they trust each other long enough to make their way through the treacherous woods and stop the war about to boil over?
There is so much to be said about The Witch’s Boy, right from the beginning I was hooked in the story that was reminiscent of old tales being told over a campfire. Kelly Barnhill managed to weave what felt like a very old story into the life of Ned and his (now dead) twin brother. It was a different way in which the author portrayed our main character, as he was not one, but two boys merged into one by their mother’s love and magic. Ned is described as “the wrong boy” who lived when an accident struck he and his brother. But somehow, Ned manages to grow to mirror his mother’s strength, taking control of the increasingly pushy magic that flows through him. It was a novel filled with different stories that flowed together to tell a very important tale. Overall, the novel was unique and refreshing in the way that the author portrayed the characters and their combined flaws and strengths.
The best things about The Witch’s Boy were the characters and their relationships with one another. I loved Ned for his courage and ability to move forward for the love of his family. I loved Aine for her strength, wit, and the choices that she makes when faced with adversity. Don’t even get me started on the wolf and his loyalties to this pair. Aine’s father had a great backstory that broke my heart a little, which brings me to the second thing that I loved about The Witch’s Boy, the fact that Kelly Barnhill doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff.
If you are familiar with some of my other reviews of middle grade novels, you will remember that the one thing that will make me love a novel geared toward children is the ability to not brush over those “tough” subjects. I’m talking about grief, pain, death, and so on. I have to be honest and say that I was pleasantly surprised while reading The Witch’s Boy because the author does a perfect job of serving the reader a plate of bitter heartache which is then followed up with just enough light and hope to keep one going. I am completely in the mindset that these so called “children’s” novels are often darker than young adult or adult novels because the kids can handle it. Much respect to the author for perfectly blending darkness and light, for showing the reader how to hope and move forward through all sorts of trials.
An added bonus to loving this novel was that I actually met Kelly Barnhill at the Kids Author Carnival a few months ago and she was wonderful. Honestly, one of the nicest people that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.