Reading this book gave me a headache. I wanted to like it, and indeed its quirky style reminded me of many books from my youth I was fond of. (I’m not sure whether or not the YA audience is what Ms. Nazarian was aiming for, that’s simply what it reminded me of.) But it’s like trying to cram your foot into a shoe that’s too small–the shoe might be cute, but you just can’t quite get your heel into it.
Even at the end, when we reached the (quite literal) “moral of the story”, I felt confused and disappointed. Confused, because I couldn’t figure out exactly what the witch’s purpose in life is. Disappointed, because as the hapless, poor young white male character receives his heart’s desire, I realize the witch’s purpose has been to help him out all along.
And that’s a real fucking shame, because the Witch is badass. She’s interesting, immensely powerful, and really just DGAF. She’s here on some kind of mission that’s important to her, and it’s causing all kinds of chaos for everyone else. That really had my attention. I’m upset that Nazarian ends up making the book about the young boy, because I’ve seen him dozens of times–he’s poor, he’s caring for his sickly mother, he’s starving, he’s guileless, blah blah blah blah. It’s basically Cinderella with a genderswap and a witch instead of a fairy godmother.
But I don’t want Cinderella. I want to know about this badass, chaos-creating witch. I want to see her punishing these puffed up fools who all try to “understand” her in an effort to control her. I want to see her going different places, and making them better or worse depending on what they need. I want to see her doing stuff just because it amuses her, if indeed she can be amused. Instead, I get her literally moving Heaven and Earth to try and get the Innocent, Hapless Farm Boy (even though he’s not actually on a farm) to realize his own worth.
The Witch also expresses a fairly nihilistic, entropy-focused life philosophy towards the end…but I feel like it was tacked on simply in an effort to confuse the young boy and make some kind of hazy point about how there’s good and evil in everyone. (Gee, tell me something I don’t know.) How the Witch is powerful, but can’t make everyone simply good or evil, and therefore has to go around making “adjustments”. Why? What for? In aid of whom? Herself? Others? God? Are there others like her? Nazarian never explains. This seems like another terribly wasted opportunity to me. If the author wants to explore all the many and varied wrinkles of amorality, there are a ton of smarter ways to do it.
This is a perfect example of yet another story in which the incredible power of a female character is co-opted for the betterment of a male character who does little or nothing to actually earn it. (Besides being poor, and displaying a basic sense of human decency. Sorry, kid, you don’t get cookies for that.) I’m really sad that such a lively, colorful character living in such a quirky, interesting world got so thoroughly shafted. Which is why I still have that headache.