Halloween Reads Week 2: Middle Grade Magic

Scary Reads Week 2!

And let me tell you, this is the least dark post of the four posts I have been reading for.  This is as bright and as shiny as it gets for scary/magic/dark/Halloween/entirely seasonal reads month here on the blog.

The two books today are both designated as middle grade, but they both dealt with being tossed out into the world to figure out their own competence.  And while competence is is a big part of the 8-12 years, it tends to be competence as compared to other children and themselves, not the adults in the larger world and where they fit in.  I think I would have enjoyed both of these when I was reading middle grade but there were ways I related to them as an adult that I wouldn’t have as a kid.  I’m interested if any of my readers have read these and felt the same way.  I mean, maybe I’ve just been a middle schooler my entire life and I need someone to break me that terrible news.

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The Apprentice Witch, James Nichol

My brain was craving this listen after I listened to The Master and Margarita, which as I said I enjoyed, but could have used more context for to truly get more out of it.  I needed something that felt simpler to me, and this fit the bill.

A young girl, Arianwyn, graduates from witching school with dubious honors, getting a test score that the adults aren’t quite sure what it means other than she didn’t get the same mark as everyone who has considered to have passed in the generations before.  This felt what I imagine to be in the British tradition, where old established schools of good repute teach generations of children from the same families, except here they share the genetic treasure trove of being magical.  And being from a magical family is really important.  Anyway, so she feels half competent and then gets tossed into a far reaching land that is having some trouble with tears in the veil between the darker world and some creatures are getting through and causing a stir for her first job assignment.  She might not ever get to be considered as a full witch and this is a trial of sorts so she can retake the assessment.  Like when you walk across the stage to graduate high school but still have to pass Health or take that last state test again in August.  But I think altogether worse and more confidence altering.

This reminded me of how hard it was to become a therapist at 23 years old.  In grad school itself, even though I had all kinds of psychology knowledge and things to guide me, I wished I had just a little more life experience before I was sat down before clients on camera to try to help them figure things out. This is the anxiety that got stirred inside me, that old fear of in over my head I am supposed to be grown but I am so not, when Arianwyn went on her trials.  Thankfully she ended up being less clueless than the adults around her and leading the way, and finding out some satisfying things about her main school rival, and I was very interested in how it was all going to turn out, but it resonated with a 37 year old Mom with a husband and is ten years into a professional job.  All the trappings of stability that I spent a long time wishing for.

But I liked it. And there are dark things but like more gray than black.  Like the other books I have been reviewing there is a sequel that is tempting me to see how she continues to do in her world.

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Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

This one was pulled into my awareness because it was made into a Studio Ghibli film, and everything made by them is a magical fantastic ride that I want every part of and I wonder who these people are who understand exactly the sort of thing that I have found entertaining for my entire life.  Like how do these people know  how to get into my imagination?   I know how I am predictable in other ways due to other parts of my identity but I feel like a smaller section of the world feels the same way I do about those movies.  Anyway.

Again I had the feeling with this one that the themes were more grown up than I would expect, but also again, it doesn’t mean a younger child couldn’t enjoy the story for different reasons.  I also felt a little vindicated by school library journal when they reviewed it also as being complex in parts.  I felt it was too, even though as I said, I definitely enjoyed it.

A girl, Sophie, trying to make her way in the world becomes cursed to become an old woman and can only break the curse by being part of Howl’s entourage and her deal with a fire demon.  Again, a young girl is tossed out into the world to figure things out, this time by a curse rather that something like finishing school.  There is some dark magic going on with the Witch of the Waste and Howl’s own curse he is trying to avoid, but nothing too dark, and her sisters are engaged in schemes to get themselves married in the world while their sister is trying to get out of her 90 year old body.  The other element that seemed very grown up to me was how Howl is entirely emotionally unavailable.  Yes, his immature tantrums can probably be related to by readers of all ages, but his quality where he doesn’t answer questions and commits to nothing makes me worry about Sophie or anyone with an interest in being close to him.

I also see that the movie is completely different, but I can’t get to it right now.  I do want to see it, even though it might not make things simpler.

So there it was.  The lightest post for the month.  Like I have in other years, four posts doesn’t seem to be enough to cover all the scary reads that I want to do.  I have books I have wanted to get to for scary reads other years that won’t make it this year.  Maybe I will have to do another scary series at a different point in the year too.  I only bought one book that I can think of recently in hopes of reviewing it for this round and it’s going to miss the bus.  The bus is too packed.  Or, I can sneak in a fifth post the first Sunday of November, as Halloween is in the middle of the week this year!

It will get darker, my friends.

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