I have to give kudos to Sally Green: Half Bad is extremely original in plot, characterization, and style. Told in a freeform stream of consciousness, the writing fits perfectly to a story of complete and utter hopelessness. But at the same time, the book is so unrepentantly mean, so completely lacking in any person with any redeeming qualities, that this becomes a form of torture porn. Bad guys are evil and the good guys are evil – we have non stop scenes of every nearly every form of abuse imaginable (save sexual, oddly). That pervasive purgatory of dread and meanness did make for a difficult read (or listen in this case, due to an Audible experience). Any time I stopped, it was very difficult to pick this back up again.
Story: Nathan is half white witch and half black witch. Trapped between the bitter war of the two, he is viewed with disdain, disgust, and suspicion. Will he turn out like his ‘evil’ black witch father or turn to his mother’s ‘good’ white witch powers? As the day his powers will manifest nears, the council of white witches tighten the noose on Nathan, taking the torture and physical abuse to new levels in their certainty that he will turn to the black. By the time Nathan falls for a pretty young white witch, the council’s final solution on keeping him controlled is to put him in a cage all night with beatings all day. Nathan knows he must escape and find his father – and learn who he really is, white or black.
Author Green resists making Nathan completely good or a martyr – he is mostly an anti-hero in which we sympathize with the horrors of his life. The book is about taking his bad situation and making it much, much worse with each page turn. Nathan’s resentment, anger, bitterness, and resilience are the heart of the story; he can’t read, is greatly restricted, and only through innate healing powers manages to survive to see the new day. As he nears his 16th birthday, and will commit fully to white or black witch, the white council of witches enact succeedingly more draconian measures to ensure they don’t end up with another black witch on par with Nathan’s father. It’s about one evil deed on that kid after another.
Those expecting the white witches to be evil and the black to be actually the good guys will need to read another book. Pretty much everyone is selfish, vicious, and willing to kill or hurt to their own aims. For me, it was a bit too heavy and I needed a story with more redeeming characters. As well, nearly every situation in the book is set up so that Nathan is beaten, tortured, or betrayed. Even the love triangle near the end telegraphed far too clearly how Nathan’s situation is going to take even worse turns as he learns to trust and love (both weapons). By the end, I was glad the book was finished and just wasn’t interested in continuing. It was too depressing and dark for my tastes.
I listened to the Audible version of this book and the narrator did an excellent job – it’s a story that could have been greatly ruined by a lesser talent.