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Don Jones
Clara Thorn, the witch that was found
Don Jones, author

Young Adult; Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror; (Market)

Poor Clara. On the one hand, things are going well: she’s aced her Math final, and school’s almost out for the year. Dad’s hanging in there with contract jobs, Mom’s helping make ends meet by cleaning other people’s homes, and they’ve at least got a roof over their heads. Vegas isn’t the nicest place in the summer, but it’s no worse than the half-dozen other places she’s lived in her short life. But on the other hand, she has no friends. Everyone at school is either diffident or a bully—as if they can sense that Clara doesn’t quite fit in. And then there are the triplets, who mysteriously vanish in the Art Alley near the school. That’s when things get interesting. Clara follows them through a Border to Underhill, and before long she’s thrown into a world she never knew existed. A world of magic, witches, excitement, and danger. She not only has to fit in with her new classmates—and avoid the ire of the “in” clique that every school seems to have—she’s apparently the only one who can save all of Underhill from an exile who wants to trap them all and cut off the source of magic! Also, she’s pretty sure her parents knew about this all along.
Jones (The Never) sets this school-for-witches adventure in the American West as thirteen-year-old Clara, a math whiz, and her parents move yet again, this time to Las Vegas. Clara’s miserable, as her new school mates bully her for being poor, but one day she falls through a portal in a wall in the city’s Art Alley and appears in Underhill, the land of magic users. After witch hunters called paladins attack her at home, Clara’s parents inform her that she was adopted—and the reason they’ve uprooted the family so often is for her own protection. Other secrets soon emerge, and this time, rather than run again, Clara elects to stay put and train in her powers in Underhill at the Liginbaum’s School for Witches.

Clara shines as a spunky protagonist who is grown-up enough to accept her destiny to bring balance to Underhill but still a middle school student who forms a bond with her classmates. Even before the fantasy takes over, Jones captures the awkwardness of tween school life and the feeling of not fitting in. Clara soon discovers that she can see the colorful mathematical equations that power magic—and that she’s a whiz at balancing the equations to create stability and potency. She has her hands full as she also must discover the secrets of why her birth parents had to hide, the true origins of magic, and the motives of Underhill’s Minister Oberherr, author of the decree that magic users never leave Underhill.

Jones links math and magic in a way that makes math seem cool, and fans of Harry Potter will enjoy some familiar story beats, right down to a magical version of an athletic competition. Fresh ideas, some welcome diversity, and memorable character work enliven the material, though the pacing at times is sluggish. Younger readers will relate to the school antics, and older ones will appreciate the creative magic system.

Takeaway: This story of a school for witches wins with its unique incorporation of math into magic.

Great for fans of: Lynette Noni’s Akarnae,Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A