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Title:  Spellbinder
Author:  Helen Stringer
Release date:  September 29, 2009
Publisher:  Feiwel & Friends
Pages:  384
Genre:  Middle grade fiction, ghost stories, fantasy
Source:  Publisher

Belladonna Johnson is just a regular, average twelve-year-old except for one thing:  she can see ghosts.  Including her parents, who died two years ago but still live in her house, and still cook her dinner, and still take care of her, but as ghosts.  So although Belladonna has had this terrible thing happen to her when her parents were killed, life is pretty normal for her – until one day, when everything changes.  Her parents disappear, along with every other ghost in the world.  Belladonna realizes immediately that this spells disaster – and so she must, with the help of her friend Steve, discover secrets her parents have been keeping from her.  Secrets about an entire world beyond that until this point her parents and grandmother have wanted to protect her from.  Turns out that Belladonna may just be the only person who can bring the ghosts back, she is responsible for finding the Spellbinder and the Spellbinder alone has the power to bring them back.

Spellbinder is one of the only books I’ve ever requested from Shelf Awareness, and the reason I requested it was really impulsive – I liked the cover.  I never do that.  But that’s okay, because it ended up being an okay read.

I have to say, for starters, that I do not think I am the intended audience for this book.  The book was far too juvenile for my tastes.  That may sound silly coming from me, the hardcore Harry Potter addict, but there is something about HP that Spellbinder did not have.  I don’t know what, exactly.  And I’m not saying juvenile in a bad way, not at all.  Just that there was not much complexity, not much to the book beyond the plot.  Which is okay, just not for me personally.

What I did like – Belladonna.  I love to see a fierce female heroine in a book, especially a book for kids.  She was an incredibly intelligent, self-aware twleve-year-old, but not in an over the top kind of way.  She was very twelve – she listened to her parents, she respected her teachers, she was afraid of the great responsibility that seemed to befall her, yet she also did what was necessary when she understood what her responsibilities actually were.  And when her parents disappeared she reacted in a very twelve-year-old way – she wanted them back so badly, even though they annoyed her when they were around.  They were still her parents, and she would do anything she had to in order to get them back.

While the plot was engaging and it did keep me reading, I felt that some aspects of the story were a bit confusing.  I found myself going back in the book to reread pages when a new plot element would arise – sometimes I felt like things came out of nowhere and maybe I missed something in a previous chapter.  I’m not sure if that was my fault, if I wasn’t paying enough attention to the story, or if the plot really was disjointed.  Either way, I know that I had trouble connecting some of the dots and staying focused on the details, so I personally had an issue with the pacing and structure of the storyline.  I’m not sure whether it would be easier for kids to follow than it was for me – perhaps it would.  But I still believe that certain plot elements were less than perfect.

Overall, Spellbinder was just okay for me.  While I loved the main character, the book has little else for me to really endorse.  I acknowledge that I am not the intended audience for this read, and so I would definitely be interested in hearing the perspective of a middle-schooler.  Anyone have any children between the ages of nine and thirteen who would be interested in reading Spellbinder?  Just let me know and I’d be happy to send it your way!