Pros: Fun, enjoyable little fantasies
Cons: Some awkward or predictable stories; inconsistencies
Rating: 4 out of 5
Review copy courtesy of Penguin Group.
Witch High is a collection of 14 stories edited by Denise Little, all about an unassuming high school in a seemingly normal world, that nonetheless teaches young magically-inclined students how to practice their craft. Now, I have to issue the warning that I’m probably one of two people remaining on the face of the planet who haven’t read the Harry Potter books yet, so I can’t compare the concepts.
The short story format is perfect for this concept. A witchy high school lends itself perfectly to all sorts of tales humorous, witchy, poignant, and fun. Some are pure wish-fulfillment fantasies. Some have mild lessons to impart. Some are just plain fun or funny, while others will tug at your heart strings.
I found that a few of the stories early on in the book were a little awkward, simplistic or predictable. They were definitely still enjoyable, and I’d say that overall the book has a higher success rate than many anthologies. Later, however, the stories are consistently excellent and I could hardly put the book down. Sarah Zettel’s “A Family Thing” is a gorgeous examination of witches past and present and where their power really comes from. Debra Dixon’s “Coyote Run” is a slightly dark and definitely fascinating tale of gaining a familiar. Esther Friesner’s “You Got Served”—about a harried cafeteria worker in a high school full of witches—is silly, but in a gorgeous way that transcends the jokes it could have been reduced to. Bill McCay’s “Remedial Magic”, about a girl who cares about nothing more than helping her sick mother, made me cry buckets (I still tear up just thinking about it). Pauline Alama’s “Homecoming Crone” is both pure unabashed wish-fulfillment fun, and an elegant tale of the nature of magic and friendship.
Overall, this is a wonderful read for teens or adults—fun, touching, and delightful. I did, however, notice some minor inconsistencies that tended to pull me out of the stories a little. In theory these stories all took place at the same location, but some of the school administrators were different (despite references to one or another of them having been there forever), the level of the world’s awareness of magic seemed to change, and some other details were different too (one story mentioned that every witch eventually gets a familiar, but you really don’t see familiars in the other stories). If you aren’t a detail-freak, however, this probably won’t bother you much.