Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Review: Spellbinder by Helen Stringer

Title: Spellbinder
Author: Helen Stringer
Reading Level: Middle-grade
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan)
Hardcover, 372 pages
Date Published: September 29, 2009
Description (Taken from Goodreads):
Belladonna Johnson can see ghosts. It’s a trait she’s inherited from her mother’s side of the family, like blue eyes or straight hair. And it’s a trait she could do without, because what twelve-year-old wants to be caught talking to someone invisible?

It is convenient, though, after Belladonna’s parents are killed in a car accident. They can live with her the same as always, watching the same old TV shows in their same old house. Nothing has changed . . . until everything changes.

One night, with no warning, they vanish into thin air—along with every other ghost in the world. It’s what some people think ghosts are supposed to do, but Belladonna knows it’s all wrong. They may not be living, but they’re not supposed to be gone.

With the help of her classmate Steve, a master of sneaking and spying, Belladonna is left to uncover what’s become of the spirits and to navigate a whole world her parents have kept well-hidden. If she can’t find her way, she’ll lose them again—this time for good.
Spellbinder is complex, interesting, and way beyond the average middle grade read. Helen Stringer incorporates a great deal of mythology to make her story work, but it’s never overwhelming or confusing. She flawlessly mixes mythology into Belladonna’s journey to save her parents and return the ghosts to the world, while giving the reader a great deal to ponder, in regards to life, death, and everything that comes after.

Belladonna is everything a normal 12 year old girl should be, aside from the small detail that she can see ghosts, and is very cut off from others because of it. Her parents are dead, but she lives with them, going about her everyday life with ghost parents. Sure, they still chat with her and can even cook for her, but they can’t touch her and no one outside her family knows they’re there. That kind of existence is rather depressing; and when Belladonna’s parents disappear, she could easily close herself off, but she doesn’t. She fights.

Along with her is Steve Evans, her always-in-trouble classmate. Where Belladonna is rational and obviously intelligent, Steve is sarcastic, rude, and surprisingly inventive. This otherwise dark story is lightened by Steve’s joking. Whenever Belladonna seems down, he tends to lift her up. Their back and forth dialogue is one of the strongest aspects of the book. Belladonna and Steve are supported by a few ghosts, some riddles, a magical ruler, and an overall compelling plotline. Each little detail comes back into play for the climax, and while the finale isn’t action-packed and beyond thrilling, it left me happy with the end result.

Spellbinder is a must-read for fans of ghosts, fantasy, or just all-around great middle grade stories. Anyone could enjoy it with its strong, lively characters (even the dead ones are lively) and original premise. The story starts off a bit slow, but is unlike any other ghost story out there. Helen Stringer has infused Spellbinder with a lot of heart and it shows. I’ll be reading the sequel, The Midnight Gate, very soon!

Opening line: It was Wednesday. ~ pg. 1

Favorite lines: The strangest thing of all, though, was the fur, which didn’t seem like fur at all, but like a piece of the blackest starless night. A snarling hole into a place of nightmares. ~ pg. 84
And this one:
 “Duh,” said Steve, rolling his eyes. “Don’t you have movies or comics in the Land of the Dead? Special doodads with the power to destroy the universe always fall into the hands of the bad guys.” ~ pg. 259
4.5 for sure
 *This review is my honest opinion and I received no monetary compensation from it.

Find Helen Stringer online:

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Melissa (i swim for oceans) said...

I haven't read enough good, captivating middle grade books lately, and this sounds like one that should really be on my TBR, so I'm adding it. Fabulous review, Nikki! The characters sound fun! :)

Kristen said...

I am loving this book so far. About 150 pages in and it's really something else, but something that is GOOD! :)

Candace said...

I hadn't heard of this one before (or didn't pay attention) but you sold me! I love books with ghosts! I'm reading a middle grade fantasy right now (The Emerald Atlas) and it's reminding me how much I do love middle grade books!

Nikki (Wicked Awesome Books) said...

Melissa - Spellbinder will not disappoint! It's not the average MG read - it's a little darker, but the humor is wonderful. The characters really make the story.

Kristen - Enjoy!

Candace - Oh, I hope you get a chance to read it :)

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