________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 6 . . . . October 7, 2011


Chasing the White Witch.

Marina Cohen.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2011.
157 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 978-1-55488-964-8.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Jonine Bergen.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



I began tentatively, pronouncing each syllable with great care until I'd completed the entire verse once. The second time, the words began to flow, picking up speed, filling the contours of my mouth before spilling from my lips. By the third time, the rhyme spewed out of me with absolute confidence, gushing forth from somewhere deep within, as if I were somehow born to speak it. As far as my face was concerned, I began to feel something. Was it magic? Was it power? Or was it just the weight of the cheese? I didn't care. Something told me this was going to work. I could feel it in my bones. I could smell the garlicky stench of victory in the air around me.

I looked down at Cyrus. He looked up at me. I blinked. He blinked. I waited for him to snorfle, or sneeze, or growl, or he didn't. I took it to be a good sign.

Twelve-year-old Claire Murphy is fed-up. She is sick of being teased by an obnoxious older brother and the tween rat-pack at her school led by the beautiful and perfect Hollis Van Horn. She is particularly tired of the huge, beacon-red pimple on the tip of her nose. When she finds a book called Remedies, Rituals, and Incantations, with a recipe for an acne remedy, she decides that this may be the solution she has been looking for. So begins Claire's journey into the world of witchery, wishes, and self discovery.

      When Claire is successfully able to get rid of the pimple, she decides to use the power of the book to administer some "justice" with a little curse on her brother Jordan and a hex on her nemesis, Hollis. Unfortunately, she neglects to follow the warning in the introduction that reads, in part, "Respect thyself, respect others, be responsible and good. Seek no power from the suffering of others. Treat all that you meet as sisters and brothers. For what goes out, returns threefold." Thus, when the hex she places on Hollis also rebounds on her, Claire has to admit that she is hurting herself in her quest for vengeance. When the book offers no cure, she decides to find the author, the White Witch, to find a way to break the hex on Hollis and thereby free herself from the hex she has inadvertently placed on herself. Conscripting the hex-ridden Hollis to help her, Claire sets off to find the White Witch, and in the process, learns a little about acceptance and accountability.

      Marina Cohen has taken a simple stereotypical plot of the eccentric misunderstood underdog being picked on by the mean, but beautiful, popular kid and has grown it into an interesting and credible story of acceptance and choice. By the end of the tale, the quirky heroine has won the day through her unique abilities and has learned that people are more complicated than they appear.

      Cohen has tweaked this recipe by creating a lively and believable heroine whose own faults and mistakes propel the plot. Impetuous and self-centered, as many teens are, Claire feels the injustices perpetuated against her very strongly. By using Claire's voice to tell the story, Cohen allows the reader to relate to Claire's version of the tale while being entertained by the humorous portrayal of teenage angst and short-sighted reasoning that moves the plot forward. As importantly, Cohen has Claire grow within the story as she accepts the consequences of her actions and begins to appreciate the good things she has in her life including a pesky older brother. Further, Cohen has not fallen into the trap of creating a one-dimensional villain. Instead, without slowing down the primary plot, she has provided enough back-story for Hollis to make her believable and relatable to her pre-teen audience.

      Cohen has found the right combination to create a brew that will cast a spell on many tween readers: one well-crafted plot, two interestingly flawed characters, a dash of humour, and a dollop of a healthy message mixed with good writing and a touch of the magic.

Highly Recommended.

Jonine Bergen is a librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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