In modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and fifteen-year-old Nathan, who is both. Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his sixteenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?
In the tradition of Patrick Ness and Markus Zusak, Half Bad is a gripping tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive, a story that will grab hold of you and not let go until the very last page.
First sentence: “There’s these two kids, boys, sitting close together, squished in by the big arms of an old chair.”
THREE THINGS THAT STUCK OUT TO ME IN HALF BAD
The middle-grade writing didn’t bother me as much as I had thought it would.
I had initially thought I would be because generally, I don’t find middle-grade writing all that appealing. Sometimes, it’s a bit hard to read through because I feel like it’s talking down to me or that it’s too simple. (Yes, I’m aware these books are mostly aimed at kids.) However, writing that way makes sense considering Nathan was a kid when this story started and his lack of proper education. It’s not written middle-grade for no reason.
A lot of unfair bad shit happened to Nathan. (It should’ve had a trigger warning.)
I kind of wish that this book had some trigger warning on it. It’s tough to stomach some of the shit that Nathan goes through. It baffles me that there was no warning on this book because I was not prepared. Nathan gets physically and verbally abused, and tortured. I found myself cringing, wanting to hide behind my fingers, and wondering how this was okay for kids to read. The brutality of the abuse actually made me sick. It made me feel for Nathan, and made me realize that he is an strong human being who doesn’t get put down by the shit that happens to him because he’s a Black Witch. Seeing the bad shit happen to Nathan really makes me wish that he could go to a safe space, that he could just go far away with the people who actually love and care for him where nobody can track them down.
The discrimination of Black Witches is an ineffective allegory to racism.
If you look at the cover art and the synopsis, you can easily assume that Half Bad will be an allegory to racism. That’s awesome and all, but is it done well? Not in my opinion. You have two groups — White Witches, who are the “good” ones and make up all the rules and laws, and the Black Whites, who are the “bad” ones and are constantly persecuted. As you read on, you see the reasons why White Witches hate Black Whites and set these laws in place, but vital information about the Black Witches is missing. We are told about all the bad shit they’ve done (ie. killing people), but what about the good things they’ve done? Why are we only seeing the White Witches doing the good and the bad? Besides killing, how do Black Witches react to being persecuted? (I have more questions but they’re stuck in my head.)
The thing I liked about this though is how relatable the discrimination and persecution of a group of people is because it occurs in today’s society. Sure, here in the real world, we aren’t discriminating witches since they don’t really exist, but we continue to discriminate people based on their race, their culture, their religious beliefs, their color.
I just wish the book portrayed both sides—White and Black Witches—in a manner that was informative and interesting.
I couldn’t bring myself to write about Half Bad for a long time because this book was kind of a mess. There are two main reasons: 1. nothing really happens until after 2/3 into the story and 2. the abuse that happened (which I was not prepared for) made me uncomfortable. Also, the story feels disjointed (which was a bit hard to read); the characters are too one-dimensional (no depth in their characterization); the romance wasn’t developed and was incredibly misguided; and the issues between White and Black Witches was lacking a lot of vital world-building information. Half Bad failed to properly convey the characters and their issues in a way that was effective and enjoyable. (Kim at The Midnight Garden wrote an excellent review that is basically how I feel about Half Bad.)