Summary: Tamsin Greene comes from a long line of witches, and she was supposed to be one of the most Talented among them. But Tamsin's magic never showed up. Now seventeen, Tamsin attends boarding school in Manhattan, far from her family. But when a handsome young professor mistakes her for her very Talented sister, Tamsin agrees to find a lost family heirloom for him. The search—and the stranger—will prove to be more sinister than they first appeared, ultimately sending Tamsin on a treasure hunt through time that will unlock the secret of her true identity, unearth the sins of her family, and unleash a power so vengeful that it could destroy them all. This is a spellbinding display of storytelling that will exhilarate, enthrall, and thoroughly enchant. -- Clarion Books
Evidently, I have been in the mood lately for some YA fantasy books. One that I recently read is called ONCE A WITCH by Carolyn MacCullough. I liked the premise of the book -- that a young girl belongs to a family of witches, yet she hasn't discovered what her magical talent is. To make matters even worse, when Tamsin was born her grandmother stated that she would be the most "Talented" of them all. I was excited to read this novel because I had a feeling that Tamsin could potentially be a great character.
While I enjoyed this book, I can't say that I loved it. It's not that I don't think this book has its audience -- there are plenty of girls who will love Tamsin and her story. It's just that as a 40 year old mother of two, I couldn't really relate to the 17 year old Tamsin and some of her actions. Tamsin was a much more worldly teenager than I ever was (or hopefully my daughter will be.) There were a few sexual situations and some discussion of drinking and smoking in this novel. And as a result, I'm not sure that I agree with the recommended age range of 7th grade and up. I probably would want my daughter to be a little older than 12 before reading this book.
Having said all of that, I did really like Tamsin; and I enjoyed how the author developed her character. While Tamsin wasn't exactly like a normal teenager in that she came from a family of witches, she still had so many of the same feelings that today's teenagers experience. She didn't feel like her family understood her or that she belonged anywhere. She also felt like she had to keep secrets from her friends and that she lived in the shadow of a more "perfect" older sister. She had those all-to-normal feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, and I think many young girls will relate to her emotions.
What I really appreciated was how much Tamsin's character changed throughout the novel. In so many ways, ONCE A WITCH really was a coming-of-age story (and you know how much I like books about teenagers maturing and facing adult situations.) She discovers so much about herself and her inner strengths, while also facing realities about her family. I thought Ms. MacCullough captured the essence of a teenager and the conflicts they face in growing up extremely well.
In addition to the character development, I thought the story of Tamsin tracking down a professor's family heirloom to be interesting. There was the age-old conflict between good and even; and I liked that the story included not only some magic, but also time travel. (And I'll admit that I'm not usually a big fan of time travel.) In addition, I enjoyed the romance storyline, and I even managed to be surprised a few times with the twists and turns. Overall, I thought the book had a terrific combination of these different elements, and I was very impressed with how the author pulled it all off.
There is a fantastic website devoted to ONCE A WITCH. There is a section for facts and misconceptions about witches as well as quizzes to take including "Which Witch are You?" and "Do You Know Your Witches"; however, my favorite part was the reading guide for the book. I thought the questions were very thought-provoking and did a great job of relating Tamsin and her feelings to the reader. If you are interested, you can read an excerpt of ONCE A WITCH here.
I have a feeling that this might be the first in a series of books about Tamsin and her witchcraft. The author definitely left open the possibility for a sequel, and I think her character will make for many more interesting adventures. In the meantime, I am very interested in checking out the other books by Ms. MacCullough -- DRAWING THE OCEAN, STEALING HENRY, and FALLING THROUGH DARKNESS.
Thanks to The Picnic Basket and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book.