Book Review: Season of the Witch by Mariah Fredericks

Posted January 23, 2014 by Kara in book review / 0 Comments

Book Review:  Season of the Witch by Mariah FredericksSeason of the Witch by Mariah Fredericks
Published by Schwartz and Wade on October 8th, 2013
Genres: contemporary, young adult
Pages: 256
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon

Like Fredericks's The Girl in the Park, here is a page-turner that perfectly captures the world of New York City private schools, as it explores the notion of power among teenage girls. Publisher's Weekly, in a starred review, raves, "Fredericks again proves her gift for conveying the intensity of adolescence, while exploring the ways girls’ sexuality is used against them and asking why 'we all have to be predators and prey.'"

Queen Bee Chloe is going to make Toni suffer for whatever transpired between Toni and Chloe's boyfriend, Oliver, over the summer. From day one of eleventh grade, she has Toni branded as a super slut, and it isn't long before things get so ugly that Toni fears for her safety. What's a scared, powerless, and fed-up teenager to do? Guided by Cassandra—a girl with some serious problems of her own—Toni decides to stop playing the victim and take control. Cassandra has been experimenting with witchcraft, and together they cast a spell on Chloe that may actually cause her death. Could Toni have really made such an awful thing happen?

Season of the Witch was a pretty pleasant surprise.  When I first ordered the book from Random Buzzers, it sounded interesting, but upon reading the first few pages, I was skeptical.  I’m happy to say that it definitely turned around.  However, there were a few problems, especially in the writing, that I couldn’t ignore.

The level of bullying in this book was surprisingly graphic and violent.  I honestly very surprised by this.  I expected mean girl drama, but nothing this bad.  Toni is subjected to the usual rumors and stares and whispers that we’re accustomed to reading about, but Chloe and her friends terrorize Toni to the point that it gets physically violent.  This passages were obviously not easy to read and left my heart broken.  I couldn’t do anything but root for Toni, especially when she was able to pick herself up, clean herself off (literally), and keep moving forward.  Her strength was admirable, well before the story turned toward revenge.

As with any sort of revenge story, you’re going to find yourself in some ethically murky water.  While I was horrified at the disgusting bullying that Toni was put through in the first quarter of the book, and I longed for her bullies to see justice, I definitely didn’t think that Chloe, the bully, deserved to die.  Thankfully, Toni didn’t either.  One thing I am thankful for in this book – there wasn’t a very heavy-handed preachiness after Chloe died.  Toni was horrified by what she had done, but there was no big revelation and after-school-special like monologue from the author.  The story continued well past Chloe’s death and the real turnaround for Toni happens later one.

I was completely fascinated by Cassandra as a character.  The author gives us some hints of magical realism so we are unable to tell what’s truly going on with the spells and rituals Cassandra introduces to Toni, but we are easily able to see that this is one troubled girl.  Reeling from the death of her autistic younger brother, Eamonn, Cassandra’s grief is complex and believable.  Eamonm was not an easy child to care for, and was prone to violent outbursts and fits of rage.  His death left Cassandra, and possibly her whole family, with some small sense of relief, and because of that relief, guilt.  Grief is not simple – it is complicated and layered, and I appreciated the honesty with which the author handle this subject.  

There were some problems I encountered when reading Season of the Witch, though, especially in the writing style.  Told in first person from Toni’s perspective, sometimes there would be sentences like:  And I wanted to say, Blah blah blah.  (Not an actual quote.)  This happened more than a few times, and in my head I kept thinking that an editor should have taken the “And I wanted to say” part off that sentence, italicized the rest, and let it be an actual thought Toni has.  Aside from the weirdness in the sentences, I also felt like the author kind of dumbed it down to her audience.  There were several passages in which everything was laid out for the reader so we wouldn’t miss a single detail.  I think that readers are much smarter than that and are able to make the connections on our own, thank you very much.  Finally, some of the interactions at the high school between the students felt very ABC Family to me – not very realistic; almost a caricature of what high school is really like.

A fast-paced read, I finished Season of the Witch in one day.  At times it was hard to take in, with the bullying and the death of a young child, but I do think it was a solid revenge story as well as a wonderful look at the effects of bullying, both in school and from our closest loved ones.  This was surprising and thoughtful, though not without its problems.


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