“It’s overwhelming. A city’s worth of angry faces staring at me like I’m a wicked criminal—which, I promise you, I’m not.” The narrator of the prologue is 15-year-old Wisteria Allgood as she stands with her 17-year-old brother, Whitney, in a large stadium, facing the pitiless crowd, awaiting their hanging. The charismatic leader of the New Order is overseeing the “festivities” from a tower in midfield, and the spectators chant his name, “The One Who Is The One.” Has the world gone mad? Apparently so. The New Order has recently taken power, and abolished “all behaviors NOT in keeping with N.O. law, logic, order, and science (including but not limited to theology, philosophy, and IN PARTICULAR the creative and dark arts, et cetera) . . .”
In this vivid and fast-paced dystopian fantasy, Wisty and Whit flash us back to the night their lives were upended, starting with the helicopter flying over their home at 2 a.m. and hundreds of soldiers marching down the street. Halting in front of the Allgood home, commandos seize the two dangerous kids; their horrified parents are powerless to interfere. Wisty recalls how her parents have always told them they were really special, but all parents say that to their kids, right? Whit, popular and good-looking, is the star quarterback on his high school’s undefeated football team. He’s been having a hard time coping since his girlfriend, Celia, disappeared without a trace three months ago. Is the same thing about to happen to them? Into the house strides their detested classmate, Byron Swain, who pulls out an official-looking scroll and proclaims to Wisty, “The New Order is taking you into custody until your trial. You are hereby accused of being a witch.” Whit is accused of being a wizard.
Thing is, though the sibs never realized it before that night, they do have special powers. As the soldiers start to drag Wisty to their van, she bursts into flames, which set the living room ablaze but don’t harm her at all. A tornado-like wind explodes in the house, shattering windows and hurling furniture. When it stops, a tall, bald man, whom Whit classifies as “evil personified,” is standing in the now-devastated room. “I am The One Who Is the One. Perhaps you’ve heard of me? . . . I will make this simple for the two of you. All you have to do is renounce your former existence—your freedoms, your way of life, and your parents in particular—and you will be spared.”
Can Whit and Wisty survive death row in the jail of the New Order? And what other freaky but life-saving powers do they possess? Each of the many short chapters, told in alternating first person narratives by the two cheeky and resourceful sibs ends in ongoing cliff-hangers that will make readers want to turn just one more, and then one more, and then one more page.
Reviewed by JF.
THEMES: FANTASY. BROTHERS AND SISTERS. SUSPENSE. WITCHES.
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009
Suggested Ages: 11 and Up