This is the first selection for my permanent floating YA diversity book club.

I apologize for the lateness of this review. I started grad school in October, and the quarter ended this week. I will put up the poll for the December Book club selection today. Please vote!

Braden is a teenager with extremely powerful “witch eyes” that constantly change colors and can see visions, reveal truth, and break and create magic spells. They also give him migraines and psychic nosebleeds. He has little control over their powers, so he always wears sunglasses to prevent their magic from activating. (Not spelled or ruby quartz sunglasses. Regular sunglasses.) Due to his magic abilities, he lives with his uncle, who has home-schooled him.

One day Braden has a vision which tells him that evil magic from a town called Belle Dam is going to come after him and kill his uncle to get to him. Braden, who is well-meaning but not the sharpest knife in the drawer, decides to protect his uncle by… going to Belle Dam.

As soon as Braden arrives, he is flirted with by a hot guy from the bus. Then he is unexpectedly welcomed by a lawyer who puts him up in a hotel and introduces him to his hitherto-unknown father, Jason, who is a town VIP and a powerful witch. On Braden’s first day of high school, he is instantly befriended by two girls and flirted with by a different hot guy. All of these people, who begin relationships with Braden without him having to do anything, exposit at some length to him about how the town is run by Jason and his arch-rival, Catherine Lansing. Catherine Lansing is also the mother of Jade, Braden’s new best friend, and Trey, Braden’s love interest. Oops.

I wanted to like this novel more than I actually did. It has some funny lines and some good moments when it breaks out of its teen paranormal formula to deliver some real emotion. I liked the realistic way that Braden’s sexual orientation was handled – not without angst, but without angsty melodrama. But the prose is often clunky, too much is handed to Braden without him having to work for it, he has unconvincingly good social skills despite having had almost no previous interaction with other teenagers, and the characters, their relationships, and the plot frequently don’t make a whole lot of sense.

I never did figure out whether or not the general population of Belle Dam was aware of magic, exactly how magic worked in this world, why it took Braden to point out to everyone that perhaps it was a tad suspicious that the lawyer hadn’t aged since 1940, and why Braden’s pal Riley thought male witches didn’t exist when most of the witches we meet are male. Many conversations and character interactions were similarly puzzling, with characters taking action for no clear purpose and having reactions with no clear cause.

While Braden’s narration is sometimes nicely snarky, a lot of the prose could have used another pass. There are many sentences with unclear syntax or noticeablely awkward phrasing. For instance, The nausea in my stomach was getting worse, threatening to unleash contents in my stomach that weren’t even there.

I’ve read much worse recent YA novels. But I’ve also read much better ones. While having a gay protagonist in a mainstream YA paranormal is genuinely groundbreaking, nothing else in the novel is. If Braden had been straight, I would have complained that the novel had nothing to distinguish itself from hundreds of similar novels.

But books with minority protagonists shouldn’t have to be staggering works of heartbreaking genius to justify their existence. We don’t demand that every YA with a straight protagonist be wonderful; we accept that some will be, but some will be terrible, and most will be mediocre or average. I can’t wait till the day that I can say that Witch Eyes has nothing to distinguish itself from hundreds of similar YA paranormals with gay protagonists.

As a work of art, Witch Eyes is mediocre-average. But there are readers out there who will love and treasure it, and I wish it stunning success. If it doesn't sound up your alley, it might still make an excellent holiday gift for a kid you know. (There's no sex, a little mild kissing, mild or no swearing, and non-graphic demon-slaying violence. It's probably suitable for ages ten and up.)

Witch Eyes

Feel free to put spoilers in comments.
The December theme is "YA fantasy with non-white protagonists by authors of color." We will return to "YA fantasy with LGBTQ protagonists" in February. (Yes, it would be great if there was overlap, but I only know of a few books which qualify in both categories, and I've already read them.)

[Poll #1801611]

Manifest

A Wish After Midnight

Half World

Racing the Dark

Eternal

Akata Witch

Shadow Speaker
.

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