Review: The Witches of Willow Cove by Josh Roberts

on Middle Grade
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The Witches of Willow Cove by Josh Roberts
Published by Owl Hollow Press
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I received a copy on Netgalley from the publisher.

Synopsis

It’s not easy being a teenage witch. Seventh grader Abby Shepherd is just getting the hang of it when weird stuff starts happening all around her hometown of Willow Cove. Green slime bubbling to life in science class. Giant snakes slithering around the middle school gym. Her best friend suddenly keeping secrets and telling lies.

Things only begin to make sense when a stranger named Miss Winters reveals that Abby isn’t the only young witch in town—and that Willow Cove is home to a secret past that connects them all. Miss Winters, herself a witch, even offers to teach Abby and the others everything she knows about witchcraft. But as Abby learns more about Miss Winters’ past, she begins to suspect her new mentor is keeping secrets of her own. Can Abby trust her, or does Miss Winters have something wicked planned for the young witches of Willow Cove?

Review

The Witches of Willow Cove by Josh Roberts is a captivating debut, ideal for late primary or early teen readers. The strong narrative and engaging writing style paired with realistic young characters are perfect for that intersection of middle grade and young adult. This is a readership that is often neglected, so it’s great to see books being released that cater to them.

The story is set in Willow Cove, a small town near Salem. On the surface, it is a regular small town,  but bubbling underneath is a centuries-old mystery that no-one has ever managed to piece together. The narrative alternates between the perspectives of two best friends, Abby and Robbie. The mystery they stumble across has more connection to them than they realise and they are thrown into a dangerous magic world of magic that challenges their relationship, who they think they are and what they know about the town in which they live. Along with a group of fellow teens (some more friendly than others), they must put together the true history of their town and keep each other safe. Each aspect of the mystery is carefully threaded through the book,  both clues and red herrings and, with so many twists and turn she uncertainty of what is the truth, and who can be trusted, stays with the reader right up until the final moment when everything ties together.

I love a book with a strong cast of characters and The Witches of Willow Cove delivers a great variety of kids working through their interpersonal relationships and figuring out how to work together and help each other. I particularly appreciated the way the story highlighted the contribution of both the magical and non-magical characters in a realistic way. The characterisation is excellent, the teenagers read very much as thirteen-year-olds but each in their own way. The parents' level of involvement in the story also worked really well.

Even though the book is full to the brim with magic and dangerous mysteries, at its core is a strong focus on human relationships, primarily friendship, but also budding romance and with parents. The story has a satisfying conclusion, while still leaving room for the possibility of more adventures. I hope there will be follow up books.

I’d particularly recommend if you enjoy Diana Wynne Jones.


Find Josh online via his website or on social media: @joshwhowrites on Twitter and Instagram

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