3.9 16
by Janet McDonald

View All Available Formats & Editions

A fresh new voice on the YA scene.

Raven's life has been derailed. She never expected she'd be a mother at sixteen like her best friend, Aisha, and she's afraid she's going to be just another high school dropout, a project girl with few prospects. And although Raven is ambitious, when is she going to find the time to finish school in the few minutes


A fresh new voice on the YA scene.

Raven's life has been derailed. She never expected she'd be a mother at sixteen like her best friend, Aisha, and she's afraid she's going to be just another high school dropout, a project girl with few prospects. And although Raven is ambitious, when is she going to find the time to finish school in the few minutes she's not looking for a job or caring for her infant son, Smokey? Then her older sister, Dell, tells her about a spelling bee that promises the winner enrollment in a college prep program and a scholarship. But spelling? There isn't a subject she's worse at! Still, Raven is fiercely determined to win, and so she starts memorizing words.

In Janet McDonald's powerful and funny novel, a smart and resilient young woman whose life isn't what she dreamed it would be learns that there are many ways to spell SUCCESS.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In her first book for young adults, McDonald (Project Girl, for adults) uses a chorus of highly authentic, lively young voices to convey heartbreaks and dreams reverberating in a Brooklyn ghetto. From the outside, Raven appears to be just another "housing project girl," whose prospects are as bleak as those of her best friend, Aisha. Both teens are high school dropouts, unwed mothers and virtually unemployable but, unlike Aisha, Raven is not content to rely on "the system" for support. Her chance to gain independence and to carve out a better life for herself and her son comes in the form of a spelling bee. If Raven wins the contest, she will be able to enter a college prep program, then go on to college on a full scholarship. Offering balanced portions of humor and drama, the novel traces how Raven gradually gains confidence in herself and her future as she prepares for the spelling bee. McDonald paints Raven's path to success as realistically rocky, obstructed by such complications as the reappearance of her baby's father and the disturbing news that Aisha is pregnant again. If the story's resolutions seem a little too pat, the heroine's passionate determination remains admirable. Her ability to turn her life around defies the notion that girls like her and Aisha are stuck on a dead-end street. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Sixteen-year-old Raven gives birth to her son, Smokey, after a one-night-stand with a boy whose last name she doesn't even know. Now she seems destined to end up like her best-friend, Aisha, another black teenage mother on welfare stuck forever in the projects, rather than like her older sister, Dell, a paralegal in an upscale law firm. But Dell's sometimes obnoxious prodding leads Raven to enter a spelling bee that promises college opportunities to its winners. McDonald conveys the love between Raven and her mother (also once an unwed teenage mom), Raven and Dell, and Raven and Aisha, in sparkling, vivid, poignant and laugh-out-loud-funny dialogue. The scene of Raven and Aisha visiting Dell at her law firm, where Dell's well-meaning and likeable white friend Leah mistakes Aisha's nickname "Ai" as "Oi," is as hilarious as any scene in recent YA fiction. McDonald makes us understand both the warmth of the black female community in the projects and Raven's yearning to leave. Although the ending may be a bit too hopeful, few readers are likely to complain, as we root for this strong and believable heroine to achieve her daunting and difficult dreams. 2001, Frances Foster Books/Farrar Straus and Giroux, $16.00. Ages 12 up. Reviewer:Claudia Mills
Raven is at home in the projects, taking care of her little son, feeling like she is babysitting someone else's child. She should be in high school, following the path of her older sister who finished community college and has a degree and a good job. Her mother is so disappointed, because she too had been a teenage mother and wanted better for her daughters. Dell, the older sister, suggests a way out: a program called Spellbound, which awards the winner of a spelling bee a scholarship to a good education. Raven, who never has been a particularly good speller, nevertheless tackles the preparation for the contest with determination. This is a short book with many details of everyday life in Raven's home and with her girlfriend (another teenage mother stuck at home on welfare); their lives are contrasted with the home situation of the father of Raven's baby, a middle-class home. It turns out that Raven's baby's grandmother is a lawyer and his grandfather is the principal at a high school, definitely a different class of black people than those who live in the projects. The author manages to describe Raven's family with as much respect, perhaps more respect, than she reveals as she portrays the bourgeois family. Of course, we realize that Raven and her family hope beyond hope to find success and escape their lower-class situation to enter the bourgeoisie themselves. McDonald does well with the language of the projects, switching over to Standard English when appropriate. Young women surrounded by teenage mothers, or teenage mothers themselves, will like the inspiration of this story. Unfortunately, the cover art, presumably an illustration of Raven, will attract no one. KLIATTCodes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2001, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 138p., $16.00. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; September 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 5)
Raven Jefferson had planned to follow her older sister, Dell, out of the projects after her high school graduation. But a one-night liaison with a boy she met at a party has changed everything. Instead of addressing graduation invitations, she is changing the diapers of her new baby, Smokey. When Dell hears of a "Spell Success" contest offering the winner an intensive summer study course and a four-year scholarship, she convinces Raven to enter. Spelling always has been a weakness for Raven, but with her friend Aisha alternately distracting and helping her, Raven begins to study intently. Smokey's father, Jesse, falls back into the picture amid her studies, but Raven stays the course to win the scholarship. The first two chapters of Raven's story lag a bit before the contest announcement and before Jesse re-enters Raven's life. The course of the plot is also quite predictable. Raven is a likeable character, however, and her supporting cast is interesting. The omniscient point of view allows the reader to see perspectives of Aisha, Dell, and Raven's mom, Gwen, as well as Raven herself. Although this book does not seem to capture project life and the weight of single motherhood as vividly as Connie Porter's Imani All Mine (Houghton Mifflin, 1999/VOYA October 1999), a good booktalk likely will have this one flying off the shelves into the hands of junior and senior high girls. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P J S (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, Frances Foster Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, 158p, $16. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Mary Ann Darby
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Sixteen-year-old Raven, a once-promising student in spite of her impoverished home and single mother's limited education, has been derailed by the birth of a baby conceived during her first sexual encounter. The father of her child was a stranger to her when they met at a party and doesn't know the extended ramifications of their meeting. Raven finds herself teetering on the brink of forgoing any life beyond her Brooklyn-project apartment, the baby, the only sort of job open to a high school dropout, and her best friend's brash "welfare recipient" influence. Then Raven's older sister hears about a college prep and scholarship program and goads her into studying for the spelling bee through which program participants are identified. In spite of the baby, in spite of a fast-food job, in spite of her best friend's loud mocking, and in spite of the reemergence of the baby's father into her life, the African-American teen decides to learn to spell so that she can compete, so that she can win. McDonald has created a vital cast of characters, giving them authentic voices and motivations. Even while cheering for Raven, readers will understand her best friend's hesitancy. The baby's father is depicted in both his lack of maturity and his desire to get beyond his parents' prejudices. Raven's mother is strong and reliable, clearly able to cope with the crises life hands her and hers. Among the shelves of novels about teenage girls dealing with unplanned babies, this is a standout.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Raven Jefferson is 16 and lives with her mother in a housing project in Brooklyn. She was a high school senior, until the birth of her son Smokey derailed most of her plans. Raven is at home, guilty and depressed about being a teenage mom and a drain on her mother's resources-Gwen Jefferson supports Raven and Smokey on the income from her job as a postal clerk. Initial tension is provided by the relationship between Raven and her older sister, Dell, who became a paralegal and moved into her own apartment. On her visits home, she prods Raven to better herself and go back to school. Raven has a really tight friendship with Aisha, who lives in the same project and is also a teenage mother. Aisha advises Raven, baby-sits for her, and makes her laugh when she is downhearted. As the story evolves, Raven takes control of her life-first by getting a part-time job, then striving to win a spelling contest that can lead to a college scholarship. Halfway through, Smokey's father, Jesse, reappears. He struggles to have his middle class African-American parents accept Raven and Smokey into their lives. There are some great depictions of character here; especially fine is the portrayal of the friendship between Raven and big, loving, feisty Aisha. The dialogue captures the pace and speech patterns of urban African-Americans, adding humor and descriptive power to the characterizations. Startlingly funny scenes add lightness to a work that, because of the subject matter, could have been very depressing. Although the ending is a little unbelievable and pat, on the whole it's satisfyingly hopeful. (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher

Spellbound is the rarest of books, funny and moving at the same time. . . . Thank you, Ms. McDonald, for writing this wonderful, fun, and touching book.” —Christopher Paul Curtis, winner of the Newbery Medal for Bud, Not Buddy

“This first novel is read-aloud funny, even as it tells the harsh truth about how hard it is to break free. . . . What's great in this novel is the depiction of the grim reality of the neighborhood and the slick clichés of success. Best of all, [McDonald] humanizes the individual people behind the stereotype.” —Booklist, Starred Review

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Sold by:
Sales rank:
File size:
158 KB
Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

A note from the author

Spellbound is a pun, a conundrum, and a cautionary tale. Raven, held by the magic of words — their spelling, their meaning, and their power to liberate — confronts and resolves the most intimidating predicament a teenage girl can face: sudden motherhood. The teenaged single mother is so familiar a phenomenon that to many she might appear ordinary. But when a baby bursts forth in the midst of a young life, for that girl, that mother, her very singular, unique, and promising journey is altered, and in too many cases truncated, forever. Her choice is existential — strive or glide. Raven strives. Aisha glides. And that is where their friendship diverges. I was inspired to write their story by my four wonderful nieces who, one after another, became mothers much too young. Undaunted, each of them returned to school, sometimes years later, somehow finding the multiple arms to juggle a child, a job, and a dream.

From Spellbound

Raven watched her mother's eyelids twitch and listened to her snore. The sound startled the baby, then his body relaxed again, limp and heavy. Maybe I'll get that job they had in the paper today. Then I can help out more, Mommy won't have to work so much overtime. She considered the bundle on her lap, its warmth and weight, and listened to the hiss of air as the baby sucked from an empty bottle. He was growing real fast. Three months old and soon it would be April, then he'd be four months, May, five months . . . and on and on, for years and years. What did the future hold for them? She was scared. Please, God, please, God, please, God, if you're up there, please give me that job.

Janet McDonald is the author of the adult memoir Project Girl. This is her first novel for young adults. She lives in Paris, France.

Meet the Author

Janet McDonald (1953-2007) is the author of the adult memoir Project Girl. She is the author of three books set in the Brooklyn projects: Chill Wind, for which she received the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent; Spellbound, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults; and Twists and Turns, an ALA Quick Pick for Young Adults. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and lived in Paris, France.

I was born after midnight during a thunderstorm. The taxi speeding my mother to the hospital broke down on a Brooklyn street, and another had to be hailed. Meanwhile, I tried to kick my way out of the dark, dank crawl space of her stomach, undoubtedly in a prenatal panic. As if that weren’t bad enough, once I get here I find that I’ve been given a humiliatingly weird middle name -- Arneda -- and that I am going to grow up not in the spacious, airy home I dreamed about in the womb but in a small apartment in the projects that I will eventually share with four brothers, two sisters, and two parents. Can we say, Bummed Out at an Early Age?!
So I’m like, “Fine, whatever.” I figure it this way: there’s clearly been a mistake, but it will be corrected. No way was I supposed to have the mean older sister who left greasy clumps of nappy hair in my brush, the stern, grumpy father whose thundering voice frightened me out of asking for allowance, the scary neighbors who did scary things to each other, and the jealous classmates who hated me because I was nerdy enough to get A’s in everything, even conduct (that didn’t last, but I’ll spare you the grim details). There had been no mistake -- this was going to be my life. My initial reaction was, “You have to be kidding!” Indeed, I bet somebody probably was kidding when he stuck me in that mess and was somewhere laughing his divine little head off. “Ha ha ha, here comes Janet. We’ll make her female in a man’s world, left-handed in a right-handed society, poor in a country that reveres wealth, bookwormish in the projects, and -- what else? -- black! Oh, she has to be black in America. Ha, ha, ha! Let’s see how she handles all that!”

What do you do when your life is set up to be as rough as possible? You just have to focus on the good parts. Like the fact that your parents are great cooks. And your older brother, the jock, lets you hang out with him and play sports. And your little brother is really cool and your best friend. And reading takes you completely out of your dreary world and into excitement, adventure, and fun. I got out of the projects and into books, which is where I’ve remained. Wouldn’t you? Books took me to college, then to law school, then to journalism school . . . People in my neighborhood started calling me a professional student. And then books took me over completely and I began writing my own. Along the way I worked as a proofreader in a law firm (the only job I ever liked), a paralegal in a law firm (the first job I ever hated), and a lawyer in a law firm (the job that lets me travel the world). I moved from Brooklyn to Seattle and then to Paris, France. My life still occasionally seems like a bad joke, but as a writer I can at least live other people’s lives while I wait out the storm of my own.

Janet McDonald (1953-2007) is the author of the adult memoir Project Girl. She is the author of three books set in the Brooklyn projects: Chill Wind, for which she received the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent; Spellbound, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults; and Twists and Turns, an ALA Quick Pick for Young Adults. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and lived in Paris, France.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Spellbound 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Esha24 More than 1 year ago
I read this book when I was in high school this is a good book now I own this book if u havn't read this book u should read it u won't regret it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I didnt have a intention to read dis book but once i started i loved it and u would to if u were around the age of 14-19
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I find it strange that there are so many positive reviews of this novel, as I read it and could barely stand it. The set-up and idea is okay, but I found that the bool was practically unreadable. The dialouge made me cringe-it seemed really stereotypical and unrealistic of the way teenagers actually speak. for example, "'Please! Now you're the one Hollywood tripping!'". also, at times i wanted to throw this book across the room and shout at the author, "Go back to middle school! SHOW Don't TELL!!" for example, "'Our mothers want us to keep living in the past, listening to old records, thinking old thoughts...Real stuff. I'm sorry, but people have sex, even us teenagers.'" That quote came from the second chapter of the book. Plus, that point that she brought up was almost never shown in the story. the dialougue and emotions were wooden, and i really disliked this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was good well than not good it was amazing. I really like this book it is a parfect iand i think everybody should read this
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think this is a great book but i did it but used condums Selena Gomez
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Spellbound If you are looking for a fantastic book that is so realistic you should try reading Spellbound. This book is about a girl name Raven that is going through lots of changes in life. The changes she had to go through is she had a baby by someone she barely knew, dropped out of high school to take care of her baby, her baby¿s father wasn¿t around to help, and since she had no high school diploma it was hard for her to get a job. Not only did you not know that she sees her son¿s father. If you want to know what happened, read this great book and you will never think something like that would happen to a girl like Raven.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My book was about a girl named Raven that got pregnant in an early age. She is only 16 years old and she dropped out of school already. But her sister Dell and her mom encouraged her to go to college so she can have a good carrier. Raven also found the babies daddy, his name is Jesse. Raven told him that he has a 4 month old son and Jesse at first felt like he wasn¿t ready because he is only 15 ½ but later on he changes his mind and decides to help her with the baby. Raven goes to this spelling-B to help her get to college because she found out that if she wins the spelling-B she is going to go to college for free. The problem is that Raven was never good in spelling but since she really wanted to go college she studied hard and won the spelling-B at the end. I like this book because it is mysterious, it has action, and it has some funny parts. The things I didn¿t like about this book was the ending because I really wanted Jesse and Raven to get back together but it didn¿t end that way. I recommend this book to everyone!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Spellbound book is about a teenager named Raven who thought she was going to finish High School and go to college. She didn¿t think she was going to be a mom at the age 16. When Raven was pregnant she didn¿t tell the babies father that she got pregnant until she had it. When Raven was working in a fast food restaurant she saw him and they started talking and that¿s when Raven told him that she had a baby from him. Raven was still thinking of going to college like she said she was. I liked this book because it was an interesting and a good book to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Why does every book Angela writes have to be based on young women who have dropped out with kids? It's like she is sending a message that if you are a teenager and end up pregnant, you will end up living in the projects! But, besides that, I sort of liked the book because I've had some friend in this same situation. But it all came out for the better.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Spellbound is about a 16 Yr. old teen that has a baby and drops out of highschool. This is a very good and all the other books Janet McDonald writes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was about a teenage girl age 16 named Raven. She had a baby and therefore droped out of school, same with her friend Aisha who already had a baby and was preganant again. This book is a bout the trouble that the girls went through together with: no other education besides their highschool education, children of their own, no fathers for the babies, no jobs (except for Raven's which only lasted for so long), and rejection from those kids whom didn't have babie. This book was very good because not only did it show how difficult it is to raise a baby while your young but how difficult it is to do by yourself. I personally love the book and everyone I told about it loves it too (even their parents). I hope you will read the book and enjoy it too. And please if you are reading or have read the book please e*mail me and write up a review, if you have any books to recommend please e*mail me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Spellbound is an attention grabbing realistic novel. It refelects real topics, and deals with issues that are real-life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i couldn't understand half of the thing in this book. if they are going to use "slang" use it right. i hated the people in the book. 'm sorry i ever read that book, it was really bad, and the names.............they could have been different, IT WAS JUST SO GETTO!!!!!!!!! i will never read this auothers book again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was totally awesome. as an african american teenager i feel it's hard to find a book that is relatable and insperationale at the same time, this book is both. this is one of the books really helped me fall back in love with reading