Half Bad

In modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and sixteen-year-old Nathan, who is both. Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his seventeenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?

One thought on “Half Bad

  1. Marilyn Carpenter says:

    . . . Do you see that connection with Being Henry David? Does Hank come to understand his own power?
    Good question about Hank and power from Being Henry David, Marilyn! It’s interesting to think about personal power through the concept of agency, and I would say that Hank did not have agency. He made decisions out of fear, which I often think of is the antithesis of agency. Once Hank began to remember who he was, and then confront his circumstances, he regained his agency — his personal power. When I juxtapose Hank with Nathan from Half Bad, I see one young man unwilling to face who he is and another who was constantly forced to face who he was. Once they embraced who they were, however, they really become much more powerful–and admirable–characters. This brings me to another theme within the books—the influence of the external world. Looking at all four characters and their relationships with the external world, I see Hank in conflict with those outside of himself, but that is because he cannot trust who he is. Canny, Billy Dean, and Nathan learn that the external world may not be trusted, but they hold fast to the truer compass within themselves. Billy Dean and Nathan are led to believe they are monsters—and so different from others — and then are manipulated by those others for agendas outside of Nathan’s or Billy’s control. Eventually we learn that Billy and Nathan gain control of their fates, but it was pretty infuriating to see how the adults with power (that word again!) in those novels treated Nathan and Billy Dean, two very innocent young boys who were placed in untenable circumstances until they grew in their understandings of the world. Canny was also manipulated by her mother, who withheld the truth from her. Canny, however, had a sense of her mother’s secrecy, and thus, when confronted with the magic that rang true to her, she followed it.
    Interestingly, Hank and Canny kept their circumstances secret from the outside world, as did Nathan with his wanderings in Wales. Billy Dean was the secret until he was 13 years old. What do you think about all this secrecy, Marilyn?
    WOW, Holly! You are provoking me to think about aspects of these books that hadn’t occurred to me. That’s what I enjoy about our discussions. Now you mention the secrecy I see it is as a protection that each of the characters uses either because they are not sure of themselves or, to keep themselves and their families safe or, because there is no one that they can trust with their secrets. Hank is attracted to a young women he meets in Concord. Yet, he lies to her and keeps his true circumstances secret from her. It seems like his lies are to protect himself from her disapproval – he doesn’t trust her enough to share his story. But, maybe it is as you wrote he can’t trust who he is and therefore can’t trust anyone else with finding out about him.
    Canny, too, lies. She keeps a bushel of secrets from her brother. Her lies to her brother appear to be because she is discovering her own powers with magic. In learning about her powers she visits a young man who is isolated from the world by a magic spell. Canny is discovering how she can overcome that spell. Canny knows that her brother would never give her permission to visit the young man. This all goes back to our original idea that our four books share a theme of each character being on a journey of discovering who they are.
    I remember as a young teen going on a similar journey of discovery. I kept secrets from my parents. Isn’t that true of most teens? In my case it was a survival technique. Even though I wasn’t doing anything wrong I knew my parents who were very strict and fearful for me would have never approved of my actions. The characters in these books are doing the same. As they make discoveries about who they are they have to protect themselves sometimes by being secretive. That is certainly the case with Nathan in Half Bad. He has to lie, have secrets, to protect himself and his family from being arrested.
    Billy Dean has been lied to all the time he is growing up. His existence is literally a secret except to his parents and one other person who have kept him locked away. When he becomes known to the rest of the world, he still has to keep the secret of his previous existence from the new people he meets. All of these characters keep secrets to give themselves time to figure out who they are and how they fit into the world. Some of them cloak themselves in magic to do so. What part does magic realism play in these stories? Shall we look at that in our next discussion, Holly?
    Yes, let’s discuss the magical elements of the texts, Marilyn, but before we do, I want to add to what you have written about secrets. I think your point about the characters keeping secrets to give themselves time to figure out who they are or want to be is really important. All too often, adults are suspect of adolescents’ secrets, and I think it is because those secrets hold a power they cannot control. We are back to power, here, and secrets do hold power, but in these novels those secrets give space to the young people to make their own decisions, come into their own agency, and to become their people. I find it disconcerting that adults would prefer to hold power over adolescents rather than encourage them to find their own way with adult support for the process. But then, adults have their own secrets, don’t they? Scary how that works.

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