Witch’s Business, by Diana Wynne Jones

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This is actually Diana Wynne Jones’s first book. I only realized that halfway through when I turned the book over and saw a quote from Publishers Weekly trumpeting this fact. It’s barely 200 pages long and, view in my edition, viagra has an added bonus of a Reading Group Guide. Nevertheless, it’s quite cute.

Jessica and Frank Pirie need money: Jess, because she is female and cannot pay for things with her friends, and Frank, because he owes Buster, the local bully, 10 pence. So they set themselves up in business for revenge. Their first customer is, oddly enough, Buster, who wants revenge against a different kid. Of course, that leads Jess and Frank to more customers, and they become part of a tangled web of people who all, suddenly, converge around Biddy Iremonger, the local witch . . .

My favorite part of this book was the dialogue. Yes, Jones is English and the book is from 1973, but more importantly, the kids use an awful lot of slang and fake swear words (“zombie guts!”) and it’s just delightful. It’s a little unlike her other books in that it’s firmly grounded in the real world, despite the magic and witch. However, the kids talk in a way that seems appropriately juvenile and, I suppose, realistic. Somehow, though, through the lens of a different country and a thirty-four-year time gap, it comes across as a bit quaint and delightful.

I’m not entirely sure how old the children in the book are, but I mentally pegged them as around 10 years old. There are younger ones, sure, who are perhaps six or seven, and one of the boys I think is closer to twelve than ten. However, they all come across as approximately ten years old. Again, their actions and dialogue all seem appropriate to their ages. Some are whiny, some are bullies, some are practical – all of the main ones, at least, are interesting. One character is even West Indian (that is, black) and, while his family works as servants to a rich family, Vernon himself is the equal of all the children and the best friend of the boy who lives in the big house.

The ending was cute, but the trick they used was very common and a tiny bit silly in this situation. That having been said, middle-grade and even mid-elementary school readers will love this book for the cute dialogue and realistic kids. I’d give it a 4/5 stars.

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