|The Witch's Boy|
by Kelly Barnhill
"“A lightning bolt erupted from the cloud and aimed directly at Ned’s heart. He couldn’t cry out. He couldn’t even move. He could just feel the magic sink into his skin and spread itself over every inch of him, bubbling and slithering and cutting deep, until he didn’t know where the magic stopped and he began.”
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?
With a deft hand, acclaimed author Kelly Barnhill takes classic fairy tale elements--speaking stones, a friendly wolf, and a spoiled young king--and weaves them into a richly detailed narrative that explores good and evil, love and hate, magic, and the power of friendship."
This beautiful fairy tale of a book will keep me thinking for a long time. It is not only magical, it is lyrical, humorous, mystical, and really an allegory that teaches noble ideals without you even being aware of it. The author uses this kind of storytelling to teach things like the power of words, the power of forgiveness, the power of family, the power of the individual, and many more. I think this would make a great read-aloud because of all the discussions that could arise. But I also think it would make a fantastic movie! I could picture that last battle scene on the big screen so clearly (possibly because of all of my Lord of the Rings marathons), from the Stones clear down to the feathered soldier. Peter Jackson - take note!
Probably my favorite thing about this book was the well-drawn characters. My heart broke for Ned and Àine (pronounced Anya), they both had so much to overcome. The secondary characters were equally endearing. I found it intriguing that there were several characters that were never named - Sister Witch (how I loved her and ached for her!), the Bandit King, the feathered soldier, the red-haired bandit (actually I think he was eventually named, but mostly just called the red-haired bandit). What an interesting storytelling technique. I also adored the characterization of King Ott. He was evil, pathetic, and hysterical all wrapped up in one young person. And then there were the other elements of the story that became actual characters. The magic, the forest, the Stones, the wolf - they were all incredibly lifelike and I loved them all. I've never read a book by Kelly Barnhill before, but I will have to keep my eye on her in the future. Don't go into this book thinking it is a quick read. This is one to go slowly with while savoring the whole essence. I don't think everyone will feel the same way about it, but I hope my students will give it a chance.
Booklist - Grades 5-7
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 9+
*Mrs. Duke says that it is a tale for the ages!