October 6th 2016, Scholastic, 240 pages, Paperback, Review copy
Summary from Scholastic
Moving house is weird. So spare a thought for Charlie. She’s moved to a creepy village where witches, curses and magic are totally real. Double weird! You know when you have a dream where everything feels just a little bit wrong? That’s how Charlie feels there. She lives in a spooky old cottage. She has to start at a tiny new school (no chance of hiding in the crowd). And the villagers are just plain freaky! There’s Suzy Evans, a beautiful young singer who glows with a strange light only Charlie can see. Nosy classmate Cat, who keeps prying into Charlie’s business. Finally, grumpy Agatha – who may not have a broomstick or a cauldron, but is definitely a witch. The only problem: what if Charlie is one too?
Note: I am a fangirl and unashamedly biased toward's Abie's work.
I absolutely adore Abie's picture book series which twist well known fairytales and teams them with the super cute work of Lauren Beard: the latest I've reviewed is The Fairytale Hairdresser and the Little Mermaid so I jumped at the chance to read her next book. Abie ventured out of the picture book world with The Magic Potions Shop which is awesome in itself, but it didn't have a girl as the main protagonist, which How To Catch A Witch does.
Charlie is a girl who is going through a few major changes in life: uprooted from school, new house, getting used her dad being home more. That's before all the magic! So she has issues which sadly a lot of readers will be able to relate to. It's not easy trying to fit in somewhere new, especially not when 'things' are happening to you. Charlie discovers she can see things others can't, and senses there's another side to life in her new village. I absolutely loved it! There's a great sense of mystery which threw up so many questions: how did Charlie get her powers? Why did she get her powers? Will she lose control of her magic? For Charlie definitely has magic. Through her curiosity she manages to find someone who helps train her, which does lead to a bit of trouble at school. But then how often does a new witch come into her powers AND find her familiar?
Charlie's familiar is AWESOME! I won't spoil the story by saying which creature the familiar is, but it totally puts a new spin on being a witch, one that's exciting and makes me super impatient for book 2 which I'm reliably told is out somewhen in 2017. I love the magic Abie creates in the story, with her trademark humour woven into the storytelling which I want to keep reading and wish I could live in. I could relate to Charlie's life seems normal enough that I understand how intimidating starting her life afresh is, and different enough that I was captivated for a good hour as I read the story.
The curse itself is clever because it draws on fairytales Abie has worked on in her picture books, which for me adds an extra layer of fun to the story. Who is cursed and how the curse happens is brilliant, because I really felt sorry for the victim who is a lovely person, one that Charlie likes too. I cheered Charlie on in discovering more and finding the items needed for the anti-curse spell, and smiled when normal family antics took on a magical turn, as well as the realism of living in a village, which always has distinct personalities.
Charlie helps look after her little sister (something normal), while coping with her new home being a bit scary when she doesn't full understand all she hears and sees. Charlie loves making lists, and while some of the items on the list are serious I kept smiling because Charlie's voice is captivating and she has a similar view on life to me. I loved that Charlie had a stutter - it's not easy to live with, and caused a lot of extra concern from her parents. She felt it was a barrier in getting to know people, but manages to make new friends because people like who she is, not what she sounds like when she's nervous.
It's a book I didn't want to stop reading, but obviously had to because there's no more (yet) after the end, and least some questions were answered. I'm excited about the adventures Charlie will have with her familiar, as their relationship is in the early stages so no doubt there will be magical misunderstandings and mishaps, as well as normal ones (I've no doubt that Charlie will have more issues at school when she needs to do spellcasting in a classroom.)
Find out more on Abie's website, and check out the awesome guest post from Abie below!
Abie's views on changing schools
Sometimes it’s hard starting something new, isn’t it?
New job, new flat, new project. Whatever it is, along with the excitement, there’s a large dose of fear. I remember well that feeling of starting a new school.
Who will I sit with at lunch?
Will I say something stupid?
What will my teachers be like?
How do I find my way around?
What if everyone hates me?
As a child I moved schools seven times. I was the “new kid in school” over and over: in Australia, in Hong Kong and, finally, in England. Each school had its different set of rules, different focus on discipline, different vibe.
The move to the UK was the one I found hardest – I started in 6th Form, at a school where everyone already knew everyone else. I was the weird girl, the one from another country who didn’t know the difference between a strawberry and a raspberry. I didn’t know what the slang word ‘snogging’ meant. I didn’t know you dialled 192 to get a telephone number and that every house has a postcode. I didn’t know that Helen and Sara were friends now but that two years ago they fell out over Matthew Carr from the boys’ school. Or that Mrs Foster’s baby died last year and no one was to mention children in front of her.
This time of year, when I see school children heading off on their first day of a new term, I think back to that feeling of otherness, of distance, of desperation to fit in.
As a child, I thought it was just me that was ‘other’, me that was the odd one out. After all, my family is a little unusual. I’m one of six children, all girls. Two of us are non-white, one of us is gay. Growing up it was a bit of a mad house. My parents had a very relaxed parenting style: we jumped on the sofas, made dens in the lounge, rifled through Mum’s closets for dressing up clothes and had constant rows about who got assigned which room of the doll’s house to redecorate (my youngest sister was given the hallway stairs. She’s still bitter about it today.)
But as I’ve grown older, I realise how common it is to feel like you don’t fit in, like you are unsure of your place in the world, the role you will inhabit, the person you will become.
Many of my books draw on this theme of the outsider. In The Fairytale Hairdresser, Kittie Lacey is the only ordinary girl in a fairy-tale world. In Tally & Squill, Tally the servant girl is a clever science-mad child in a manor house of less competent adults. How to Catch a Witch is the book where I explore this theme most of all. Charlie starts Year 7 midway through the year. She knows no one, feels lost and confused and, with terrible timing, her stutter has decided to return. She’s petrified she’ll be asked to speak so she keeps her head down to avoid everyone: walking through the corridors pretending she has somewhere to be, or hiding in the library.
Charlie’s solution is a little extreme – her plan is to find a witch. Somewhere on the way she’ll have to realise that it’s not just her who feels like this, that a stutter is not a curse and that, as she will soon be told:
‘Weird is just another word for special’