Sally Green’s Half Bad is the perfect novel for inspiring one to despise all of humanity or fall onto the ground and weep pathetically. Needless to say, it is an excellent book.
In a world of covert witches, there are the white witches and the black witches. Then there’s Nathan, half white and half black, struggling to figure out whether he’s good, bad or somewhere in between under the increasingly observant White council scrutiny. As Nathan grows, he starts to learn that maybe the world is a little less white and black than the council would like everyone to believe.
Nathan, the protagonist and narrator, has a deadpan, muted voice. It is almost entirely void of drama and emotion as he states events bluntly and without ceremony as if they can’t truly touch him. This works perfectly for the novel, because it shields the reader from feeling too much of the horrors that occur in the story.
Let me assure you, there are many, and if he’d waxed poetical about every agonizing injury and injustice, I doubt I’d have made it even a quarter through the novel before suffering a seizure right in my feel-thumper.
At the same time, that deadpan voice gives such greater emotional impact and poignancy at all the right times, ramping up small moments into a real bang. The book follows through his childhood of invasive exams and increasing scrutiny over his every move, to the council’s more extreme attempts to control Nathan.
There are so many characters in this book that are full of nope. All the nope.
Seriously. This book has so many oxygen-thieves who fill me with a hatefire that goes beyond description, and I think only a truly talented author can make me feel that way.
The writing is simply splendid. For a long novel with so little happy moments, it needs the excellent writing to keep the audience hooked. It needs to grab the readers by the gut and keep them emotionally invested for long enough until they start peeling away the layers of its complexity. That’s right, this book is like an onion!
That’s its best feature, because it plays on your own preconceived notions about fairytale mainstays to infuse itself with this unsuspecting racial element that sneaks up on you like some kind of literary ninja.
The biggest problem with the story was the pacing. It takes a long time for the plot to really kick in, trusting on the reader to be invested enough in the possibilities of the story in order to make it there. I feel like Green offsets this somewhat with the beginning chapters of Nathan’s imprisonment, but I actually found the quieter aspects of the novel to be the most fascinating.
Overall, whilst the second half lost me a little, I was deeply affected by this book and the journey Nathan goes through. Though Green owes me at least twelve boxes of tissues and one seriously happy ending if she’s going to abate the trauma she’s inflicted.
Half Bad is available now from Viking Juvenile