To say I loved this book is an understatement.
This gold dusted book designed by Melissa Castrillon with royal blue edges (if you are lucky to get a Waterstones exclusive edition) holds so much within it; magic, courage, sisterhood, coming of age and kindness within a story that evokes flavours of the 3 Musketeers with a dash of Practical Magic and a tiny smidge of an iconic 80s film I will not name because ‘spoilers’.
I’ve been wishing for this book since I first heard about Betty Widdershins and her sisters in late 2018 and as soon as I heard Waterstones had early release copies I was hunting down the nearest in stock.
Betty Widdershins is about to turn 13, she dreams of escaping the dreadful island of Crowstone and seeing the world. The problem is someone cursed her family long ago and all Widdershins women who leave, wilfully or accidentally, the boundary of the archipelago are doomed to die by sunset.
To numb the pain of the curse they find they have the power over one of three magical objects with the power to spy, to hide or to transport but that’s not good enough for the Widdershins girls.
Betty with her elder sister, the beautiful Fliss and the wild playful Charlie seek a cure, even if that could lead them into mortal danger.
It was fair to say that Lady Luck crossed the road when she saw the Widdershins coming.
Michelle Harrison writes in an immersive style, yet is somewhat coy with her words. There are no long lyrical descriptive passages, but the careful choices she does make evoke a sensory experience of the Widdershins’ world, and as much of the experience takes place in Betty and our protagonist’s emotions, the way Harrison writes takes our own feelings along for the ride with hearts thumping, nerves skittering and tummies turning like the tides.
There’s something timeless and yet very modern about Harrison’s writing. There is a touch of the innocence and wild abandon of classic adventure stories where children are free to wander, sail and get tangled up in all sorts of things that course your adrenaline and leave you gasping for another chapter. Yet there are aspects that are more modern from the pacing to the way Betty recognises shades of the rainbow instead of black and white simplistic thinking in regards to characters behaviours, and the empathy for the discrimination that Colton faced in his life.
I can see this book becoming a new classic. There is so much richness to be explored and gained within its pages on both a personal and interpersonal level with its dichotomy of the needs of the self and the needs for kinship in this case sisterhood. I can also see this being explored and studied as there is a rich seam of pedagogic inspiration to mine and set sparkling in the hearts and minds of children.
The sisters character and ages are also clever as both younger and older readers than 13 will find someone to associate with whether playful Charlie, headstrong Betty and boy-mad but caring Fliss and this adds a special something that rereading will draw out at different ages and experiences changing perceptions of characters and self making this book offer so much more to readers.
Thank you Michelle for cracking your heartache open and finding the story of the Widdershins within. It is breathtakingly wonderful.
A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison is published by Simon & Schuster and is available online and from good bookshops.