Author: Lynne North
Publication Date: March 12, 2013
Publisher: Ghostly Publishing
Number of pages: 272
Recommended age: 8+
Reviewed by: Renee (Mother)
Gertie Grimthorpe is born into a society of witches and grows up in Vile Vale, but there is something very wrong with her… she is beautiful and couldn’t be nasty if she tried. When she finds out that she is to attend a private academy for magical children, Gertie hopes to find her witchy way in the world. With a moat monster suffering from stomach ache, a short-sighted owl familiar and mishaps galore, Gertie’s adventures are hilarious and heartwarming. Join Gertie as she struggles with growing up (and longing to grow her first wart), learning magic and working out how to deal with a grumpy enchanted umbrella, named Bat.
My Thoughts: Meet Gerthrude (“Gertie”) Grimthorpe. Gerthrude comes from a long line of witches, but she is not your typical witch. She doesn’t have a hooked nose nor does she have a wart or pointy teeth; in fact, she is pink-skinned, blond, and blue-eyed with straight, flat, white teeth . She is not particularly adept at casting spells (e.g., creating Bat, a talking umbrella with a bat head and setting fire to the neighbor’s barn) and even her “familiar” (Owl, her witch’s “pet”) is clumsy. In essence, she is very much not like a witch at all.
In a desperate attempt to change the course of her destiny (as a failed witch), Gertie’s mother enrolls her in a witch’s Academy where she will be trained to improve her “witch skills” including “The Voice”, “The Point”, levitation, and herbology, among others. Gertie becomes the favorite of all the teachers (who all have interesting names like Miss Hemlock, Mr. Mort, Miss Fiendish, Mr. Wolfsbane, etc.) She also befriends the rather rotund outcast, Bertha Bobbit as well as the moat monster and charms her way into everyone’s heart; all that is, except her nemesis, the young warlock Fang who experiences several difficulties as he attends the Academy alongside Gertie.
I really enjoyed reading this funny and quirky story. The author, Lynne North, has spent a great deal of time creating a witch culture setting where everything is precisely the opposite of what we see as beautiful or desirable in our world. For example, witches are expected to have yellow skin, a hooked nose, and a wart – anything else is ghastly. Even the expressions are different: instead of “goodness knows why not”, the phrase used in the story is “badness knows why not”. There are all kinds of play on words throughout the story that are good for a chuckle. The author does a great job of immersing the reader into this witch world – it was lots of fun!
Gertie was a really great character that I think would be a good role model for tween girls. She knows she is different from all of the other witches, but she forges forward staying true to herself. She even befriends the biggest outcast at the school and accepts Bertha for who she is also. One word about Bertha though. Bertha is a very large girl who engages in stereotypical “fat” behaviour (e.g., eats LARGE amounts of food, is sleepy, is lazy, has no friends, etc.) I felt that the characters’ reactions to Bertha were over-the-top rude (e.g., calling her “fatso”); this was particularly the case for the things that Bat and the grandmother say about Bertha. It was actually making me uncomfortable to read some of the passages. I would be worried that children would read those passages and think they were funny but not necessarily “wrong”.
One final word about the writing itself. On the one hand, I think tweens will gobble this story right up. There are so many interesting and fun parts to this story and I found myself laughing out loud many times. On the other hand, I felt that there were parts of the story that didn’t really add to the overall plotline and probably could have been cut to help the story flow a bit better. I felt that there were a few side tracks (e.g., the birthday party) that were unnecessary and were instead distracting. Now, that’s just my adult linear thinking speaking. I suspect children wouldn’t notice!
My bottom line: Overall, I found this middle grade fantasy adventure to be a fun read. The central character, Gertie, is absolutely endearing, there are many interesting and quirky scenes throughout the book, and there is a surprising climax at the end where Gertie’s nemesis gets his just desserts. I did take issue with some of the stereotypes of “the fat girl” in the story, and felt that there were some scenes which could have been cut, but I would recommend this book to tween girls in particular who love reading fantasy adventures. My daughter in particular LOVES reading about witches! Ages 8+
*** This book was provided to us free-of-charge by the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own. ***