Friday, March 25, 2011


My twelve-year-old daughter came home from school one day and asked if I could order a book called Spellbinder from the library for her.  One of her friends was reading it, and had told her a little about it, and she thought it sounded like fun.  When it came in, I took one look at the cover and immediately saw the appeal.  She devoured the book in a few days, and enjoyed it so much that she urged me to read it when she had finished.  Usually this happens the other way around - I read a book I think she'll enjoy, and she ends up reading it.  It was fun to read one recommended by her, instead.

The protagonist is Belladonna Johnson, a twelve-year-old girl living in the north of England.  She can see ghosts - it's an ability that runs in the family.  This has its advantages and disadvantages.  For example, it's embarrassing to be seen talking to people no one else can see.  But it's good that she can see her parents, who died in an accident.  She still lives at home with them, and life has continued much as it did when they were alive.  So, full of secrets, Belladonna has kept to herself at school - until one day when she happens to touch another student when a ghost is nearby, and he can see the ghost as well. 

When ghosts start disappearing - including Belladonna's own parents - Belladonna goes on a quest into the afterworld in order to try to set things right.  There are Sybils with prophecies, hidden magic books, secret passages, graveyard sprites, mystical weapons, and mysteries to be solved.  The adults in Belladonna's life are uncommunicative and dismissive, and she has to figure things out on her own. 

There's a lot to like about this one.  First off, Belladonna is a strong protagonist, and while she behaves in a way that is believable for a twelve-year-old, and she's often confused and unsure, she is brave and keeps at it, never giving up, and she stays focused on her goal.  I enjoyed the way her relationship with Steve, her classmate who sees the ghosts, develops, as well as the minor characters along the way - particularly Elsie, the peppy ghost who died in a tennis-related accident (and who seems to enjoy relating all the gory details with gusto).  The plot is fairly simple and straightforward, and while it relies perhaps a little too much on coincidence, it is satisfying and full of fun and creative fantastical details.  It has a satisfying conclusion, but there are plenty of areas left unexplored, not to mention some intriguing unanswered questions, so that my daughter and I were very happy to learn that the sequel, Midnight Gate, is due to be published in the U.S. this coming May.

Books in the Spellbinder series:
1. Spellbinder
2. The Midnight Gate  

Spellbinder by Helen Stringer (Feiwel and Friends, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Book Addiction:  "Overall, Spellbinder was just okay for me.  While I loved the main character, the book has little else for me to really endorse.  I acknowledge that I am not the intended audience for this read, and so I would definitely be interested in hearing the perspective of a middle-schooler."
Book Aunt"I was pleased that it ended thoroughly, even while hinting at a sequel. For middle grade fantasy enthusiasts, Spellbinder is a real find."
Books and Movies:  "I read Spellbinder aloud to my four kids, and although it took a little bit for us to get into it, once the story grabbed us, we were hooked."


  1. Dfinitely one to add to my reading list, oops, I mean my daughter's reading list.

  2. You have no idea how happy I am to see this book on here! In a box of goodies I got from a friend last year, a hologram type bookmark for Spellbinder was included and I have been obsessed with finding and reading this book ever since. Turns out a store near me finally got it in hard cover but I couldn't afford it at the time so I will wait until the sequel comes out in May and hopefully pick both up at the same time. I love the cover art, too!

  3. Heather - Isn't it fun sharing reading lists?!

    Cat - Oh, I hope you like it. I envy your cool bookmark! :)

  4. I enjoyed this one, but I bet I would have loved it if I'd been lucky enough to read it when I was 12, like your daughter. I'd known vaugly there was a sequel coming, but I'm glad to know now its name and date--thanks!

  5. Charlotte - I agree! This is one of those kids' books that is at its best for the intended audience. Fun for us adults, sure, but I think it definitely hits the spot for younger readers. I hope you enjoy the sequel!

  6. I'm glad you liked "Spellbinder" (well, some of you) :P I just thought I'd leave a note to let you know that the much more affordable paperback is out on April 12th and "Midnight Gate" lands on May 10th. MG is hardback in the US, but um...if you go to Amazon UK, you'll possibly find one that is a bit more affordable. (I almost certainly shouldn't be saying that!)

  7. Hi, Helen - thanks for stopping by! We are looking forward to reading Midnight Gate - thanks for creating such a strong and likable protagonist!


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