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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

But Where is the Witch?

Over at Nerd Girl Blogging, Lindsay admits to a misconception she had about The Beautiful Between by Alyssa B. Sheinmel: “I guess I kind of forgot what Liz B had said in her review [of The Beautiful Between], because I was totally expecting a paranormal story.  I just reread the review and though she doesn’t come and say it’s not paranormal, she does say there are no ghosts or vampires (so of course that means it’s about witches and vampires, right??).  To be honest, I was about halfway through the book and I was still waiting for the main character, Connelly, to be all SURPRISE MY MOM IS A WITCH YO!”

That just cracked me up, because I’ve done that. Somehow, gotten the entirely wrong idea about a book. As I wrote in my review of Octavian Nothing, I began reading that book thinking it was a fantasy. Yes, Dear Readers, I thought that one of the most moving, thought provoking, and authentic examinations of slavery and the American Revolution was an epic fantasy with Gothic overtones about a lost prince being held hostage by evil magicians. Also, I thought it was set in the future. On another planet.

No, really.

This leads me to ask you two questions.

First, how late can a story say “by the way, SUPERNATURAL?” Usually, when a main character living in the regular world (just like us!) realizes that vampires/werewolves/demons are real, it happens pretty quickly. There could be an entire book about Grace from Shiver that is set in a realistic world without a whisper of wolves. Imagine if that first book was just about her in high school, and the sequel to that first book introduced Sam and company. Would we be, “hey, you cannot just change a real story to a supernatural one,” even though it would give us a better experience of how shocking it is to the main characters to realize that werewolves (or vampires or witches) do exist?

Second, have you ever had a “where are the witches? what, this isn’t on another planet?” book moment?

About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is


  1. I had almost the same thing with Octavian Nothing! Except I was reading it as science fiction instead of fantasy. It’s kind of like historical fiction that reads like old-time science fiction, or something!

    I’ve always thought that if something blatantly supernatural is going to happen in the plot, there ought to be a HINT that things are not quite normal early on at least. But since I like fantastic stuff, I’m less likely to be thrown by it appearing suddenly halfway through a book than I am thrown by expecting something to be a fantasy and then it isn’t. Unless the later fantasy is obviously thrown in there to patch up a plot hole or something.

  2. I requested the audiobook of Downtown Owl thinking it was a children’s book.

  3. I think one reason I was a bit disappointed in Liar was because it was something that I completely didn’t expect. Although yes, the clues were there – still. I didn’t like the sudden reveal halfway through the book.

  4. I think that fantasy misconception about Octavian Nothing is intentional, because the reader’s shocking realization that “this is real” is an effective way to demonstrate how unthinkable slavery is.

    My most memorable genre-bending experience was reading Orson Scott Card’s Lost Boys. I did not know it was a ghost story until the very end, and it completely freaked me out. Seriously. I had nightmares for weeks. I almost wrote a letter to Card saying he should have warned his poor unsuspecting readers!

  5. Kim, was that the short story or the novel of “Lost Boys”? In the short story collection Maps in a Mirror, there’s a very interesting afterward. Card got some flak for that story because he wrote it as if it were something that had really happened to him, and he has a personal explanation for that. He changed to fictional names for the novel, IIRC.

  6. P.S. I don’t care for the novel of Lost Boys myself, because I feel it has insidiously violent undertones, but my husband loved it as a work of realistic fiction of a kind he rarely sees, in which there’s a happy marriage and main character is a devoted family man.

  7. rockinlibrarian & kim, I feel a bit better that my Octavian mis-read was shared by others.

    kim, I agree that the reader is supposed to have a moment of shock when they realize, “this is my history, these are our founding fathers,” rather than “others”.

    web, well it does have “Owl” in the title…

    Beth, great example. rockinlibrarian, did you read that? what did you feel about how liar was plotted? I think Liar is a bit of a hard sell: say too much about the reveal and do you ruin it for others? But say nothing and people feel either shocked or betrayed or upset that it’s out of the blue? What you know colors the reading, so how soon do you reveal?

    Kim & web, I haven’t read LOST BOYS but I’ll add it to my TBR pile

  8. I think LIAR is something else entirely, because there isn’t just ONE reveal, and you’re left not entirely sure WHAT kind of story it really is. I describe it as a thriller, if you must put just one label on it. I even say that it MIGHT be supernatural, or it MIGHT not. I sell that uncertainty as part of the reason to read it!

  9. (Oh, and Kim, I think you’re right about the intentional fantasy-feel of Octavian Nothing. That’s a good point, and certainly works that way!)