Diary of an Accidental Witch
-Honor and Perdita Cargill
“I’M AT WITCH SCHOOL! Now would be a really good time to discover I can do magic…”
The journal format is very hard to do properly, particularly when the stakes are high and the author needs to maintain tension. Podkayne of Mars doesn’t work very well because the stakes rise until Poddy either dies or is badly injured; Adrain Mole works better because the stakes are very low and there’s no reason to think the titular character is going to be in any real danger. However, in my opinion, the format works best for children’s stories, as it gives an impression of a juvenile mind dealing with things as they happen rather than looking back from the future. In this, Diary of an Accidental Witch – very definitely a children’s book – works very well.
The main character, Bea Black, has just moved to Little Spellshire, a town – unknown to her – that is shared between the magical and mundane communities. Her dad, a rather absent-minded scientist, accidentally enrols her at the local witch school, forcing her to try to learn magic, as well as broomstick riding, frog-care and various other things. And with the Halloween Ball coming up, poor Bea needs to cast her first spell and try to find a few friends among the witches.
Like I said above, Diary of an Accidental Witch is very definitely a child’s book and the stakes are very low, at slightly below The Worst Witch. There are no evil wizards or cruel teachers, just a rather snooty student who isn’t quite as bad as she acts (sometimes). Nor does the main character suffer anything worse than the standard problems of someone transferring to a new school – getting to know people, finding new friends, etc. The only real issue is that the food is terrible. Otherwise, she gets used to the school – doing well on her broomstick – and generally makes a good impression, once she gets through the first few rough months.
The book also glosses over issues that, in more adult books, would be unavoidable. The school’s existence doesn’t appear to be a secret, although precisely what happens at the school seems to be hidden behind a veil of polite secrecy. The two communities mix and don’t mix, providing an odd moment of confusion for Bea when her ordinary friend meets the witches. There’s no real clash between the two communities, but they seem to be separate and yet sharing the same space. A more adult book would either be set in a world where magic exists openly, or is hidden away from the ordinary muggles. Bea doesn’t seem to have to worry about the mechanics behind this, nor does she face any open discrimination for being an ordinary-born witch.
Overall, the book works very well for what it is – a child’s book in a journal format. Bea’s voice shines on every page. The stakes are low. The school is co-ed, but there are no crushes or romantic issues (the named characters are too young; I’d say they’re ten at the oldest) and most of the concerns are very familiar, if set in a world tinged with magic. The fear of a new school, classes, sports, friends, of finding a place in a very different world. And it very definitely has a degree of charm, aided and abetted by wonderful little illustrations.
If you liked The Worst Witch, you might like Diary of an Accidental Witch.