Poppy and Ember, switched at birth, discover the truth and each other in this coming-of-age fantasy.
Poppy Hooper has always been different. Though raised by humans, the dark-haired white girl with different-colored eyes is a witch, switched at birth by her power-hungry aunt. Meanwhile, secluded in a forest, Ember Hawkweed—Poppy’s counterpart—has been raised by witches. The blonde white girl’s something of an anti-witch: "soft and weak," failing at witchy things and preferring aesthetic pleasures. Conversely, Poppy unintentionally performs extraordinary feats of magic (to often problematic effect). When Poppy’s father moves them across the country, Poppy and Ember meet, precipitating an intense, immediate bond that deepens as Poppy introduces Ember to the modern world, sharing music and gossip magazines. Soon thereafter Poppy encounters Leo, a beautiful, olive-skinned homeless boy, and mutual sparks fly. These new relationships are tested when Poppy brings Leo to meet Ember, who falls for him (the first boy she’s seen) straightaway. Brignull develops story and characters slowly, long, luxurious sentences balancing the magic and the mundane expertly and building the world of the witches by showing how out of place Ember is in it. Tension builds inexorably to the inevitable witch showdown, which brings small victories but not a happily-ever-after for all. The third-person narration switches focus from character to character as they make frustrating, heart-rending, totally believable choices.
Fantasy and nonfantasy readers alike will appreciate this gritty and intriguing coming-of-age story. (Fantasy. 14 & up)