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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*Once a Witch* by Carolyn MacCullough- young adult book review  
Once a Witch
by Carolyn MacCullough
Grades 9+ 304 pages Clarion September 2009 Hardcover    

Do you ever wish you could cast a spell and all of your troubles would go away? If only life were so simple. Seventeen-year-old Tasmin Greene, in Caroline MacCullough’s latest urban fantasy Once a Witch, finds that being the only one in an entire family of witches not to have any magical powers - Talents, as they’re called here - makes her a misfit even within her own family.

When she was born, her grandmother prophesied that she would “be one of the most powerful we have ever seen in this family. She will be a beacon for us all.” Tasmin thinks that this was one time when her generally accurate grandmother missed the mark at a prediction, because she didn’t show a sign of possessing any Talents at the age of eight, when everyone else in her family has.

She lives her life like a typical teenager more or less, going to a New Hyde Prep school and working at her family’s bookstore after school and on weekends. When a man who claims to be Professor Alistair Callum walks in to the store and asks her if she could help locate a clock that he tells her is old family heirloom, it sets off a chain of events that could destroy her entire family.

His request seems innocent enough to her, especially when he gives her the name of the person who told him that he might get the help he needed at Greene’s Lost and Found, New and Used Books - someone known to the family, who owned an antique shop:
“Go see Mrs. Greene, they told me. Or her granddaughter, Rowena. Rowena Greene will be the one you want.”
Tasmin knows it’s wrong for her to do, but she doesn’t tell Alistair that she’s not Rowena. Although she says that “I can’t promise you anything,” she still pretends to be her older sister, whom she’s both looked up to and envied, and who is being groomed to take over as the head of the family when their grandmother dies. He describes the clock to her in very specific detail; she tells him that if she is able to find it, “I’ll look you up. NYU, right?”

She kind of hopes the professor will forget about the whole thing, and she really doesn’t know how she could locate the clock anyway, or why she didn’t tell him the truth - that her name is Tasmin, not Rowena, and that she has no Talents that would allow her to find the clock. But when her handsome distant relative Gabriel comes back to town (she’s had a crush on him since they were kids), Tasmin enlists his unique abilities to locate hidden objects and travel through time. They see the clock which Callum claims to be his family’s missing heirloom in a painting at their aunt and uncle’s house, and Gabriel uses his Talent to Travel to take them back in time to the 1500s.

Little do they know that the clock is really an object of great power that members of her family, called Keepers, have guarded and protected for generations. The clock is a Domani, an object created when Tasmin’s family was at war with another family, the Knights, who used their Talents for darker purposes.

The Knights almost destroyed the Greenes, until four members of Tasmin’s family, representing the four cardinal directions and Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire, created the clock to absorb and contain the evil Talents of the Knights. A fifth person representing Blood had to be sacrificed to do so - a terrible cost to win the war - but if they hadn’t, their entire family risked being wiped out.

Tasmin comes to realize that Callum is not who he’d claimed to be but is instead a member of the Knight family trying to regain their old powers for himself and to destroy her family. Instead of becoming the beacon her grandmother prophesied, she might become the downfall of her family. On top of becoming Alistair’s unwitting pawn, he also gets Rowena to fall under his power, as well as Tasmin’s best friend, Agatha. He drinks some of their blood (though he’s not a vampire) to revitalize and make himself more powerful, and he won’t ever let them be free unless Tasmin continues to help him.

Tasmin and Gabriel Travel to other times to locate the Domani - when Tasmin touched it the first time they found it, it lost its powers and became a normal clock. It then inhabits different objects each time throughout the history of the Greene family, and the two have to keep searching for it, knowing that the fates of Rowena, Agatha, and their entire family rests in the balance.

Along the way, Tasmin discovers that she does have Talents that make her one of the most powerful members of her family - but will even her newfound Talents make her a match for Alistair Knight and break his control over her sister and friend?

Once a Witch catches readers up in its spell, transporting you along breathlessly. It should appeal to teens of either gender - besides its main character, the first-person narrator Tasmin Greene, one of its other main characters is Gabriel, whom guys can identify with. Even adults with teens will enjoy it, as I discovered - I requested this novel to read and review mainly because I thought my teenage daughter would enjoy it (which she does), but I was also entertained by it. Recommend it to anyone who likes the fantasy genre and novels involving the supernatural.
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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