Witchlings by Claribel A. Ortega

Witchlings by Claribel A. Ortega. Scholastic Press, 2022. 9781338745528

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Paperback ARC (to be published 2/1/22)

Genre:  Fantasy

What did you like about the book? (Synopsis) In the fantastical town of Ravenskill, Witchlings participate in the Black Moon Ceremony, a ritual that places the 12-year-old magical students into covens, where they will become full witches. Seven, a dark-skinned Witchling, prays to be placed in her favorite coven Hyancith, but instead is decreed a Spare, an outcast coven with little magic looked down upon by witch society. To make matters worse, she is stuck with a total stranger from another town, Thorn, and her school bully, Valley. Because of her tension with Valley and sheer disappointment of the situation, the Spare covenant magic cannot be sealed, dooming the three girls to be stuck as Witchlings forever. Seven boldly counters this by invoking the Impossible Task to seal their magic, and the task challenges them to stop the legendary Nightbeast (a giant, dangerous, and blood-thirsty wolf monster) from terrorizing the town, or else they will be turned into toads. Seven, Thorn, and Valley must work together, building their magic, teamwork, and friendship if they want to survive.

I like this book for a number of reasons, but mostly because it is incredibly charming. The world building of Ravenskill and the witches’ lifestyles, the distinctiveness of the three main characters, and the dynamic relationships between Seven, Thorn, and Valley really hold the book together. The book also ramps up as you read, starting as a typical magic-adventure story but shifting to a mystery-thriller at the end. Seven must solve the dilemma of the Nightbeast to not only save herself, but also Thorn, Valley, and the town of Ravenskill. The central themes are fighting injustice, perseverance, and, most importantly, building strong bonds with friends, and giving them second chances. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? This happens in middle-grade novels sometimes… Plot points will be hinted at in an obvious fashion, but Seven is oblivious, and her reactions will sometimes make your eyes roll (depending on your age and reading experience). This type of writing can easily ruin a middle-grade book, but it works in Witchlings because the characters are likeable and relatable. Also, Seven’s parents are too accepting of the whole situation and overly optimistic, saying “Just believe in yourself! We love you.” It’s a good message, but also a little unbelievable. 

To whom would you recommend this book? Anyone who likes witches, magic “schools” and friendship, and magic-mystery in fantasy. Kids who liked Harry Potter, Nevermoor, Amari and the Night Brothers, or Akata Witch will like this book.

Who should buy this book? Public libraries and middle school libraries

Where would you shelve it? Fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No, but maybe the top half

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Laila Carter, Boston Arts Academy, Dorchester, Massachusetts

Date of review: January 20, 2021

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