Bea has started to hear and see things that no one else can – creatures, voices, visions. Then strangers visit Bea and tell her she is different: she has the rare powers of a witch. They warn her she is being hunted. Her parents think she is hallucinating and needs help. All Bea wants to do is get on with her life, and to get closer to Lars, the mysterious young man she has met at the skate park. But her life is in danger, and she must break free. The question is – who can she trust?
Carnegie Medal-winner Melvin Burgess returns with a powerful, thrilling fantasy for young adults about magic, myth and following your instincts.
Melvin Burgess is seen as a huge influence in the YA genre and greatly praised for his writing of taboo topics. I had not previously read any of his work but I was so excited to read this book. The synopsis was such a hook and the cover is gorgeous. And then I read it.
TRIGGERS: Physical, mental, emotional abuse, rape, grooming, victim blaming, paedophilia. There is absolutely no waring about this, it is not indicated in the description in anyway, it is billed as a story about witchcraft and witch hunters.
You would be forgiven for expecting Bea to be a maturing young adult (17+) as indicated by the cover art but no, she is in fact 13 at the start of the book and 15 at the end.
After discovering she is a witch, Bea finds other local witches who tell her she is in danger. When she tells her parents about her powers she is essentially told she is crazy and then kidnapped by Lars.
Lars proceeds to break her down, groom her, and then systematically abuse her, before using her as a weapon for the Hunt against “good witches”. Bea finally escapes after 2 YEARS and the adult witches, now including her father, not only blame her for her actions but put HER ON TRIAL and tell her NEVER to forgive herself. SIDE NOTE – Did they look for her? Report her missing? Try to rescue her? We never find out because it doesn’t matter, it’s Bea’s fault. Along with every act she was manipulated into performing.
Trial complete we get to the (anti)climax, and it ends. Leaving us to wonder if Bea is given help to deal with all the trauma that she has suffered (unlikely given the fact IT”S ALL HER FAULT) or if she is able to or encouraged to find happiness and love in her future (which she obviously doesn’t deserve, what with being totally evil and did I mention to blame?)
Is this a reflection of society and it’s victim blaming? Or is it just a very damaging reinforcement that if you have been abused in anyway its your fault (please, please don’t ever believe that – and if you need to talk to anyone I’m here)? Or was it just written from a place lacking information, sensitivity, and compassion?
Luckily the subscription it was sent in includes an author chat where questions can be hopefully answered and I had a lot of questions!
A brief summary of the Q&A chat. Some of the questions asked were about the trial being very quick to blame Bea for being manipulated and abused by a much older, shape shifting witch, who is essentially a raping an underaged child. Other questions asked covered the lack of search and rescue from her family, the police, and the older witches. Again Bea is 13 years old when Lars takes her.
Melvin Burgess answered all of our questions, questions that were asked in part by women who have survived abusive relationships, who have been sexually abused, who were groomed by older trusted men, who blamed themselves for all of this, and he told us that he knew exactly what he was writing. He didn’t think that it was victim blaming but thought that was because she should have known better, he brushed aside our comments and concerns that there was no support or counselling for Bea, that all the adults who were supposed to protect her failed her and then told her it was all her fault and she should never forgive herself for the actions she performed while she was being abused and manipulated. It was also revealed to us, by Melvin, that his US editor expressed similar concerns “A lot of people find that trial very difficult. The US editor refused to publish it because of that! But I stick to my guns”.
There seems to have been little to no research into grooming, abuse, brainwashing/manipulation, victim recovery, and in general a complete lack of sensitivity and empathy, even in the face of people who had similar experiences telling him how this book had hurt them. I understand that you can not experience every emotion or situation that you write about, but I don’t need to be set on fire to know that it would hurt.