cover image The Witch’s Boy

The Witch’s Boy

Kelly Barnhill. Algonquin Young Readers, $16.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-61620-351-1

In a story of an unexpected hero, a thief’s daughter, and some very tricky magic, Barnhill weaves a powerful narrative about the small tragedies that happen when parents fail their children, even with the best intentions. After Ned’s twin brother, Tam, drowns, his mother, the village’s Sister Witch, binds Tam’s soul to Ned, who grows up as an awkward, stuttering boy ostracized by the rest of his village. Áine’s widower father loves her, but he loves his life as a Bandit King more. The magic that touches both Ned and Áine draws their lives inexorably together as they are caught up in the machinations of King Ott’s selfish empire-building. Barnhill (The Mostly True Story of Jack) makes bold character choices: Ned is soft, but never weak, while Áine is tough, prickly, yet sympathetic. Peripheral adults are well fleshed out, from Ned’s father, devastated by the loss of one child and afraid to show his love for the other, to a sensible queen who knows the value of a good witch. Barnhill elegantly joins the story’s diverse threads in a complex tale whose poignancy never turns sentimental. Ages 9–up. Agent: Steven Malk, Writer’s House. (Sept.)