Spell Check by Julie Wright – book review

"Spell Check" by Julie Wright.
“Spell Check” by Julie Wright.

Until her 16th birthday arrives just before Halloween, Allyson Peterson’s life isn’t really that odd. She lives with her divorced mom and video-game-obsessed little brother, occasionally spends time with her dad, quietly swoons over her crush Jake Warren, and gets routinely abused by the stuck-up cheerleaders at Salem High School (naturally, home of the Witches).

But then inexplicably weird things start happening every time the words “I wish” come out of Allyson’s mouth. At first she can’t believe she’s making them happen, but as the evidence continues to mount, Allyson starts to panic. Why is this happening to her? Is her mom really a witch? Why did her Swedish grandmother send her a troll statue for a birthday present?

And what’s with the strange white-haired woman who randomly appears to taunt and terrify her in the dead of night? It takes a visit from her grandmother, Farmor, to straighten things out—if being told that you’re a Troll Kvinna and must pass intense, dangerous magical trials to prove yourself can be said to straighten anything out.

Spell Check starts out slowly, and readers will figure out what’s happening to Allyson long before she does. The pace does pick up in later chapters, as Allyson’s numerous thoughtless wishes are granted in disastrous ways and her Farmor must step in to help her make things right. Chapters are similarly uneven in length, though this is a minor quibble.

More problematic is the writing style. Although the protagonist is in high school, her expressions are solidly middle-grade in tone. There are also several spelling and usage errors in the e-book text I read, though these may be cleared up by a good editor.

I’m guessing that Spell Check is meant to be the first of a book series, as there are a number of loose ends sticking out of the narrative. At one point we are introduced to a very small man and a very large elk, who appear to be important characters, but who do not appear elsewhere in the book. Allyson is supposed to be learning about her powers and abilities, and about the history of the Troll Kvinnor, but we hear very little of this information through her—she just can’t seem to focus on her studies, even though obtaining this knowledge may be a matter of life and death to her.

Overall, though, I’d say Spell Check is a fun read with a pleasant—if not particularly inspired—writing style, especially for middle-school kids. Allyson is a funny, relatable heroine, and Swedish troll folklore, which may not be as well-known as other European folk tales, gives a new spin to the somewhat hackneyed “teenage girl receives magical powers” trope. I especially recommend it for girls who like stories about magic with a touch of romance thrown in for good measure.

Release Date: June 10, 2014 (USA)
ISBNs: 1941849008 (9781941849002)
Publisher: Heart Stone Press
Language: English

MySF Rating: Three point zero stars
Family Friendliness: 90%


Alcohol/Drugs: 0
Language: 0
Sexuality: 1 (kissing)
Violence: 2 (peril and physical damage during trials)

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