Witch Child [NOOK Book]


When Mary sees her grandmother accused of witchcraft and hanged for the crime, she is silently hurried to safety by an unknown woman. The woman gives her tools to keep the record of her days - paper and ink. Mary is taken to a boat in Plymouth and from there sails to the New World where she hopes to make a new life among the pilgrims. But old superstitions die hard and soon Mary finds that she, like her grandmother, is the victim of ignorance and stupidity, and once more she faces important choices to ensure her ...
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Witch Child

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When Mary sees her grandmother accused of witchcraft and hanged for the crime, she is silently hurried to safety by an unknown woman. The woman gives her tools to keep the record of her days - paper and ink. Mary is taken to a boat in Plymouth and from there sails to the New World where she hopes to make a new life among the pilgrims. But old superstitions die hard and soon Mary finds that she, like her grandmother, is the victim of ignorance and stupidity, and once more she faces important choices to ensure her survival. With a vividly evoked environment and characters skilfully and patiently drawn, this is a powerful literary achievement by Celia Rees that is utterly engrossing from start to finish.

In 1659, fourteen-year-old Mary Newbury keeps a journal of her voyage from England to the New World and her experiences living as a witch in a community of Puritans near Salem, Massachusetts.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
YA author Celia Rees serves up a history lesson and a bewitching tale of suspense with Witch Child, the story of a young woman's struggles to survive amidst the witch mania that besieged 17th-century civilizations on both sides of the Atlantic. The story unfolds from the pages of a centuries-old diary, purportedly found hidden inside an old quilt. In a lead-in to the tale, Rees provides just enough manufactured manifest for this diary to lend it a realistic feel. The diary's author, a 15-year-old Englishwoman named Mary Newbury, grabs her readers' attention with a vengeance from the very first page, where she details her grandmother's arrest and subsequent execution for the crime of witchcraft.

Unlike some of the innocents who fell victim to this 17th-century hysteria, Mary readily admits to being a witch -- at least within the confines of her diary -- and is rescued from suffering a fate similar to her grandmother's by a mysterious female benefactor who ushers her unto a ship sailing for the New World. Mary hopes the change of venue will provide an escape from the sort of rigid intolerance that caused her grandmother's death, but rumors of witchcraft seem to follow her wherever she goes. The horrific onboard conditions and several at-sea disasters trigger witch paranoia among Mary's fellow sea travelers and, when the surviving passengers finally arrive in Salem, Mary quickly discovers that the lifestyle and the settlers in this New World are even more rigid and intolerant than those she left behind.

Adding to the danger of witch hunts and Mary's unfortunate tendency to attract unwanted attention are the day-to-day struggles for survival; starvation, disease, and deplorable living conditions are no strangers here. But while the era may be different, the lifestyle harder, and the stakes higher, young Mary's adolescent struggles with peer pressure, self-discovery, and self-actualization carry a timeless appeal that will easily cross the centuries to modern-day teens. (Beth Amos)

Children's Literature
With shades of The Blair Witch Project, this book, Witch Child, purports to be the recently discovered diary of a 17th century teen accused of witchcraft. The catch is that Mary really IS a witch, but not an evil one; she has to hide her powers, though, lest she be tortured and killed. When Mary escapes to America, she finds that the folks of Massachusetts are no more tolerant than the English villagers who killed her grandmother. But the book's real catch is that Mary herself isn't real. Like Blair Witch, the story is fiction passed off as fact, complete with an afterword that requests information about those 17th century families, and provides an e-mail address for quick contact. If your kids don't believe this story is made-up, have them check the front of the book, with its "juvenile fiction" classification. But don't discourage them from reading the book, a sometimes grim but ultimately satisfying read that proves the devil really is in the details. The author is skillful in her depiction of the pious paranoia of both the Old World and the New, and of the struggle and privation that was life in the 17th century. 2000, Candlewick Press, $15.99. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Donna Freedman
Early March, 1659. I am Mary. I am a witch. Thus begins the diary of Mary Newbery. The woman she knows as Grandmother has been tried and is to be hung as a witch. Mary, rescued by a strange gentlewoman with hauntingly familiar gray eyes, is given a new identity and safe passage with Puritans leaving England for the New World. Martha, an older widow, takes Mary under her wing. Like Grandmother, she has a healer's touch and seems instinctively to know Mary's hidden secrets, but trouble follows Mary. At sea, the Northern Lights appear, an ominous sign, and the ship drifts far north. Arriving in Salem, the group finds their predecessors have traveled far into the wilderness to settle. Mary's differences are harder to conceal in the small, tight-knit group where she is already suspect as an outsider. When some Puritan girls are caught playing at witchcraft, they must find a scapegoat to blame, and Mary is the perfect candidate. Mary's diary ends in October, 1660, as she again flees for her life. All the formulaic characters are here: a withered old witch hunter, the hysterical group of girls, an inflexible parson, a kindly older woman, and the respected family who lends support. This passable book lacks the tension of Kathryn Lasky's Beyond the Burning Time. Nevertheless the cover shot of a girl's face will draw readers, and the novel is sure to be popular with fans of the genre. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P M J (Readable without serious defects;Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). Reviewer: Roxy Ekstrom
The Puritans were obsessed with witches, it seems, and it didn't start in Salem, Massachusetts. Rees begins her narrative in England, with the torture and execution of Mary's grandmother. A strange woman comes to rescue Mary and sees to her removal with a group of Puritans going to the new world. Mary starts her journal with the provocative statement, "I am a witch. Or so some would call me." Mary is an unusual young woman, wise, skilled in herbal remedies taught to her by her grandmother. She and the older woman Martha, a midwife and healer, chose to continue into the wilderness once they disembark in Boston in 1689. They settle in a new town north of Boston on the Merrimack River, accompanied by a man, Jonah, who studies plants and their remedies; and so the three together are healers. These arts clash with some of the Puritan beliefs, which are mostly cast in the worldview that a just God and a wily Devil are in constant struggle for the hearts and minds of each individual. The Devil and evil spirits are everywhere and witches are the instruments of the Devil. The small community is filled with strict rules, which are revealed as Mary tells her story in her journal. Mary likes to decide for herself what is good and what is evil. She is fascinated by the vast forest that surrounds the community and she sneaks away, changing into boy's clothes, meeting a Native American boy and his grandfather, who help her find and identify plants that can be used in healing. She is a person who wants to think for herself, which puts her into danger, real danger, in a Puritan community. It is just a matter of time before she is named a witch. YA literature has other novels and nonfiction about theplight of witches in Puritan society—in fact one of the early YA novels is The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Rees's journal format is effectively dramatic. She successfully conveys Mary's own confusion as to what is witchcraft and what is not, reflecting the historical reality of what a young woman would think raised among Puritans. The cover art is magnetic, the face of an intense young woman with wisdom mixed with sorrow in her eyes. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; September 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 5)
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-Journal entries, found and pieced together from pages stitched inside a 17th-century quilt, are said to be the basis of this captivating tale. As her grandmother is executed as a witch by English village folk, Mary Newbury is abducted by a wealthy woman and shipped off to America. During the long, difficult journey, she makes friends with some of the other Puritan emigrants, finding an older woman to draw her into the community. They join other followers of the Reverend Elias Cornwall to travel to a newly established village deep in the Massachusetts wilderness where their very survival is threatened, not only by the harsh physical conditions, but also, the villagers believe, by savage Native Americans and the presence of the devil among them. The healing skills Mary learned from her grandmother make her useful, but also a target for suspicion. She is befriended by a Native American boy who accepts without question the supernatural talents she must hide from her community. When, inevitably, the village turns against her, she escapes to the woods. There is no more to the story in this volume, but eager readers who visit the accompanying Web site will learn that a sequel is forthcoming. While the quilt premise is an obvious ploy, the historical setting is sound and well developed, and Mary is an entirely believable character. Readers already captivated by stories such as Ann Rinaldi's Break with Charity or Elizabeth George Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond will not want to miss this one.-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
After watching her grandmother hang for being a witch, Mary journeys to the New World only to discover that human nature's desire to blame another is not limited to 17th-century England. Unlike most stories about people accused of sorcery, Mary freely admits to her gift, one that offers pain with its limited power. Mary's intelligence and openness to the world around her, along with a distinct distrust of the omnipresent religious fervor provide the narrator with immense appeal. There's objectivity to the diary entries about her journey to Massachusetts among a group of Pilgrims and her hard work of settling in a new land. She freely enjoys the company of a young sailor, gets to know the native guides, and appreciates the healing powers of plants. Equally, she recognizes the frivolity and conceit of others in the party and the arrogance and selfishness of the leader who claims to speak for God. When trouble arises, whether in England or in the colonies, some are quick to blame the Devil and his spawn, the witch. Luckily, Mary finds some good people who cling to logic even amid their religious allegiance or who lack that mindset of blind devotion. This diary is eerily given fake credibility by a single-page prologue and an afterword that describe the provenance of the pages and call for further information from readers, an unnecessary gimmick. The tightrope that Mary walks as an outsider in her society is a dangerous one, and the suspense tightens as events unfold. The text is haunting despite a lack of antiquity in the language. Perhaps wisely, Rees forgoes emphasizing historical or theological accuracy and instead focuses on providing immediate characters. With its theme of religious intolerance and its touches of the supernatural, this is sure to be in high demand for a long time. (Fiction. 11-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781408810378
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 5/3/2010
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 126,270
  • File size: 669 KB

Meet the Author

Celia Rees is one of Britain's foremost writers for teenagers and her titles for Bloomsbury have enjoyed huge success. Witch Child has been adopted by educational boards up and down the country and is required reading in secondary schools in the UK, with life sales of over 180,000, and has been translated into 25 languages. Celia has a degree in history, a strong interest in which is evident in her brilliantly researched books. Sorceress, Pirates! and Sovay have all met similar critical acclaim and are loved fro their strong characters and skillfully plotted adventures. Celia Rees lives in Leamington Spa, with her husband.
Celia Rees is the author of many books for young readers including the bestseller Witch Child. She has been shortlisted for both the Guardian and the Whitbread children's fiction awards and her novels have been translated into over twenty languages. Celia lives in Leamington Spa.
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Read an Excerpt

The following manuscript comes from a remarkable collection of documents termed "the Mary papers." Found hidden inside a newly discovered and extremely rare quilt from the colonial period, the papers seem to take the form of an irregularly kept journal or diary. All dates are guesswork, based on references within the text. The first entries are tentatively dated from March 1659. I have altered the original as little as possible, but punctuation, paragraphing, and spellings have been standardized for the modern reader.
Alison Ellman
Boston, MA
1. Early March 1659

I am a witch. Or so some would call me. "Spawn of the Devil," "Witch child," they hiss in the street, although I know neither father nor mother. I know only my grandmother, Eliza Nuttall; Mother Nuttall to her neighbors. She brought me up from a baby. If she knew who my parents are, she never told me.

"Daughter of the Erl King and the Elfen Queen, that's who you are."

We live in a small cottage on the very edge of the forest; Grandmother, me, and her cat and my rabbit. Lived. Live there no more.

Men came and dragged her away. Men in black coats and hats as tall as steeples. They skewered the cat on a pike; they smashed the rabbit's skull by hitting him against the wall. They said that these were not God's creatures but familiars, the Devil himself in disguise. They threw the mess of fur and flesh on to the midden and threatened to do the same to me, to her, if she did not confess her sins to them.

They took her away then.

She was locked in the keep for more than a week. First they "walked" her, marching her up and down, up and down between them for a day and a night until she could no longer hobble, her feet all bloody and swollen. She would not confess. So they set about to prove she was a witch. They called in a woman, a Witch Pricker, who stabbed my grandmother all over with long pins, probing for the spot that was numb, where no blood ran, the place where the familiars fed. The men watched as the woman did this, and my grandmother was forced to stand before their gloating eyes, a naked old lady, deprived of modesty and dignity, the blood streaming down her withered body, and still she would not confess.

They decided to "float" her. They had plenty of evidence against her, you see. Plenty. All week folk had been coming to them with accusations. How she had overlooked them, bringing sickness to their livestock and families; how she had used magic, sticking pins in wax figures to bring on affliction; how she had transformed herself and roamed the country for miles around as a great hare and how she did this by the use of ointment made from melted corpse fat. They questioned me, demanding, "Is this so?" She slept in the bed next to me every night, but how do I know where she went when sleep took her?

It was all lies. Nonsense and lies.

These people accusing her, they were our friends, our neighbors. They had gone to her, pleading with her for help with beasts and children, sick or injured, a wife nearing her time. Birth or death, my grandmother was asked to be there to assist in the passage from one world to the next, for she had the skill -- in herbs, potions, in her hands -- but the power came from inside her, not from the Devil. The people trusted her, or they had until now; they had wanted her presence.

They were all there for the swimming, standing both sides of the river, lining the bridge, staring down at the place, a wide pool where the water showed black and deep. The men in tall hats dragged my grandmother from the stinking hole where they had been keeping her. They cross-bound her, tying her right toe to her left thumb and vice versa, making sure the cords were thin and taut. Then they threw her in. The crowd watched in silence, the only sound the shuffle of many feet edging forward to see what she would do.

"She floats!"

The chant started with just one person remarking, in a quiet voice almost of wonder, then it spread from one to another until all were shouting, like some monstrous howling thing. To float was a sure proof of guilt. They hooked her, pulling her back to shore like a bundle of old washing. They did not want her drowning, because that would deprive them of a hanging.

Witch Child. Copyright © 2001 Celia Rees. Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA. Published by arrangement with Bloomsbury Publishing plc.

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Interviews & Essays

Celia Rees on Conjuring Up Witch Child

"What interests me is why people believe things," says Celia Rees, author of the acclaimed novel Witch Child. "Why do people believe that some people have powers? And what could those powers really be?"

Told in the form of a diary, Witch Child is the spellbinding story of Mary Newbury, a teenage girl who escapes England's witch hysteria in the 1600s only to face intolerance among the Puritans in the New World. While illuminating one of the darker times in history -- a time when simply being different could cost you your life -- Witch Child evokes powerful themes that continue to resonate.

Why would young readers today care about a girl who lived hundreds of years ago? One obvious reason is the current fascination with the occult (think Blair Witch Trials, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a blockbuster series about a certain wizard, which shares a U.K. publisher with Celia Rees). But readers will be drawn more by Witch Child's perennial themes of adolescence -- social isolation, prejudice against those who don't conform, and the struggle to stay true to yourself.

"In any institutionalized setting like the one in which Mary finds herself -- it could be a school, it could be a neighborhood, it could be anywhere -- there will always be some people who are against you," Celia Rees says. "And you've got to stick by what you believe and what you think." While Mary is not without her faults -- "She's headstrong and she can make mistakes," the author says -- she stands as a strong role model. "There comes a point where you can't compromise any more," says the author. "You have to decide whether you're prepared to change yourself entirely or whether you're going to keep your integrity."

A long time brewing
A meticulous researcher, Celia Rees has long been curious about the era in which Witch Child takes place. "Even when I was studying history in college, I remember thinking how isolated the first communities in America were," she says. She was also intrigued by the hysteria of the witch trials and wondered whether the sense of strangeness and fear felt by the early settlers may have helped to fuel these awful events.

It was in such musings that the idea for Witch Child had its beginnings. "But the complete story would be quite a long time brewing," Celia Rees says. The magical moment came when she was reading a book about Native American shamanism and realized that many of the beliefs this community embraced -- such as natural healing and the ability to change shapes -- were also attributed to women who were called witches. She found it amazing that at a single point in time, a person with such "powers" would be persecuted in one culture but revered in another.

Is it real?
Because of the story's striking immediacy, many readers of Witch Child have wondered whether it is a real girl's journal. The premise of the book is that the pages of Mary's private diary have recently been discovered within the layers of an antique quilt, a quilt Mary herself pieced together. There is even an afterword from a fictional scholar who found the document, inviting readers to e-mail her if they have any information about Mary.

"I wanted to write it as a diary and not like a historical novel because I didn't want there to be any distance between the reader and Mary," Celia Rees explains. "It's easy when you read a historical novel to think, 'Well, that's a shame, isn't it, but it happened a long time ago so it doesn't really matter to me.' But I wanted it to matter with the readers right away. I wanted them to feel her anger, her fear, and her hatred, really, of what was going on."

Judging from the tone of the e-mails Celia Rees has received, Witch Child has indeed sparked some fervent interest in Mary's fate. "They're very, very positive," she says of her many correspondents. "They feel empathy for Mary and identify with her and want to know what happened to her." (Readers will not be left hanging -- a sequel is in the works that will reveal a surprising new episode in Mary's life.)

And what about Celia Rees herself -- does she believe in the supernatural? "Well, that's a tough question," the author admits. "I like to say that I'm a little bit like Fox Mulder on The X-Files. I want to believe. After all, it would be a boring sort of world if there weren't things we couldn't explain, now, wouldn't it?"

Interview courtesy of Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 100 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 100 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2008

    A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

    Orphaned, fourteen-year-old, Mary Newbury must now take care of herself after the tragic death of her grandmother. She flees England in search of a new and better life, and ends up going to America with a group of Puritans. She must start from scratch and pretend to be someone she is not. For Mary¿s gift is one where, if discovered, she¿d be hung just like her grandmother. Only people whom Mary grew to love along the journey knew her secret. Except in the new colony, people began to notice Mary to be a little different, and there has been witchcraft found in the forest. Only, it is not Mary. Then who could it be, you may ask. Will Mary be convicted for a crime she didn¿t commit? Will she be punished for a gift she doesn¿t even want? Shall Mary suffer the same fate as her beloved grandmother? Well, I guess you¿ll just have to read to find your answers. I enjoyed this book because it caught my attention from the very start. The book starts to pull you in with a very mysterious beginning, and by the end of the first couple chapters, you¿re hooked. I just couldn¿t stop reading. In some parts of the book it was in broken English or old English, so it was confusing. But I just used context clues, or clues from the text, to figure out what they were saying. I also like this book because while reading it, I could make many connections to what we were then learning about in Social Studies class. It was pretty neat to be reading and see a name and be able to say, ¿Hey, I remember learning about him.¿ This book, I believe, would be enjoyed by both girls and boys in their early teens. Yes, the main character is a girl, but there¿s nothing `girly¿ in the book, and there are many guys in this story too. Witch Child is the first book in the series, and Sorceress is the sequel, written by Celia Rees, who¿s also written The Wish House. Witch Child is based on a true diary found dated back to 1659. Many of the facts and characters are true, and many of the events did actually happen, and Mary Newbury truly did exist. I really enjoyed this book, and I believe you will too.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 8, 2009

    Well worth the reading time.

    I enjoyed the book very much.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2014

    Great book!

    I am just done with this one and it was fun to read,i just started the second book wich is Soreceress. It picks up where the other on end. Easy and fun to read .

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2013

    please help!

    i need to find an intresting book with potions and witch craft but i want one that is great please help!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 6, 2009

    This book is really good

    Jacob Holman 1/6/09<BR/><BR/><BR/><BR/>This book must be good because a lot of people like it and have had different thoughts about it after they read it.<BR/><BR/>i havent finished it yet but, when i do finish it i will do another review on it.<BR/>i am going to try and finish it soon.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 7, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    witch child

    I bought this book seven years ago. I Just recently got around to reading it. This book really makes you appreciate the freedom and life we have today. Witch child is very entertaining and easy to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2008

    kinda dull

    This book was entertaining, but over all kinda dull. It makes you appreciate your freedoms and wonder how many lives were lost in that time of prejudice. I also like how nothing was deffinate. An accurate portrayal of life in the colonies.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2007

    Great Read for an Adult

    I thought this book was very easy & exciting to read. You get the feel how it may had been to live such a 'strict' lifestyle, and how we can appreciate the freedoms of today. Overall, as an adult I very much enjoyed reading this book, and look forward to the follow-up book as well.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2007


    This book is very good if you like things that are about history then this is the type of book for you. This book can be very interestingat times.You should read this book before the witches come for you.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2007


    This book had a great subject, but I couldn't read it. It was so boring that I couldn't get past the twelfth entry. I know that a lot of people love it but I couldn't stand it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2007

    6th loves books

    HI... The book Which Child is awesome.I would recomend it to anyone that likes mysterious books . My faveret paret of the book would hafe to be the beggening. In the beggening a mysterious person takes Mary to her away in a carage. Find out wear Mary goes and whate happens to her.You Whould think Mary is not a which but is she.Read to find out whate happens to Mary.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2007

    makes me want to eat porridge

    I really liked this book.. it makes you know the way that those people lived... their superstitions,foods...

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2007

    A reviewer

    In the tradition of Nathaniel Hawthorne, a young girl leaves England to escape witchcraft but encounters even more in Massachusetts. A classic story of a young girl's struggles in an old time with old rules and punishments.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2007


    This book is wonderful and very entertaining I picked it up just to see if it was any good. I found it to be the best book I ever read. Mary Newbury, a young girl, escapes from her grandmothers hanging as a witch. If she hadn't she surely would have been persecuted as well. her mother whom she has never met before wisks her away and sends her to America! Mary hides her true nature of being a witch for as long as she can. Even though being one is not what the bible makes it out to be. She is more of a healer, although she has skills in seeing into the future and such.She eventually has to run of and join the indians to escape the hysteria in her villiage Behula It is a wonderful book, I felt realy connected to the characters and I simply love this book, It was a great read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2007

    Witch Child Part 1

    After finishing Pirates, I thought why not give Witch Child a shot and I did. Told from an accused witch's point of view by the name of Mary. Its how she moves into the New World but still deals with the haunting memories of her past that come back to haunt her thus meets an indian by the name of jaybird along the way.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2006


    i read it in lessons and i fall a sleep half way asleep im only yr9 and find it borning we aint finished it yet and i hope we dnt BORING!!!!!!!!!!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2006


    I just love this book. I read it like three times. It still dosent bore me. I think that they should make this a recemended scholl book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2006

    Oh My Gosh!!

    This book was great. I am a person who likes this kind of stuff(witch drama, vampires). Witch Child is a good book to because it is filled with suspense. You never know until you read about 5 more pages if Mary is in trouble or if she finds a way out of it. Although it is not a slow book, because it always has action, it does have maybe some slow parts and thats why I only gave it 4 stars instead of 5. Disreguarding the slower parts it was a good book overall and I recommend this to everyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2006

    Amazing but yet boring

    Oh geez this book was really good but the chapter New world and the voyage are extremely boring. He writing was captivating in the begining and in the end but in the middle it became boring.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2005

    One of my all-time favorite books!

    Celia Rees is an amazing author and I love her books. Witch Child felt very real to me and I didnt know intell after I finnished reading it that it was fiction! It was one of my favs because Mary is a strong female character and I love this genre and fanasty. Celia Rees has a way of drawing you in to the character's world and if you want to escape from this reality I recommend this book to you!

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