Jean Thesman,
The Other Ones
(Puffin, 2001)

Jean Thesman, an American writer of novels for young adults, turns her hand to fantasy with mostly successful results in this latest story set in the contemporary Pacific Northwest. The protagonist/narrator, Bridget Raynes, a high school sophomore, has always known about being "different," spending her life since kindergarten hiding her uncanny abilities: to move objects just by thinking about them, to see the spirits of earth, water and trees, and even to read people's minds. She desperately wants to be accepted and to fit in with her peers, but despite her best efforts, she remains on the periphery of the school's elite cliques.

Bridget's aunt Cait, also marked by the family gift, and her "threshold guardian," Xiii (a changeable male entity not quite of this plane of existence who sometimes manifests as a frog, a dragon or a tiny boy), both urge Bridget not to deny her powers, for by doing so, she denies her true self. Xiii's recent increasingly urgent utterings about impending trouble emphasizes that Bridget should heed Cait's advice to join with the "Other Ones," the wicce or witches. This act would empower her to help one of her few friends, Jordan, recently abandoned by his widower father, and to aid the new girl in school, Althea, "seen" to be a member of a family of werefalcons stricken with a private grief. When Bridget becomes the newest victim of her violent classmate Woody, and the danger to Jordan and Althea mounts, the pressure to intervene with magic increases to an agonizing level until a soaring climax lyrically describing the release of the heroine's power. By this action, Bridget earns welcome as a member of a loving Wiccan circle, achieving the satisfaction of no longer being an outsider.

Thesman places her young protagonist right between two worlds: the mundane one replete with indifferent, if not downright inimical people (clueless parents and a wretch of a teacher), and another plane suffused with wonder and spirits. The cast, too clearly divided between Wiccans and nasty, close-minded ordinary folk, features the congenial exception of Bridget's best friend, the nonmagical Mitzie (whose weight problem lends a touch of grounding in realism). Bridget's stubborn refusal to accept her heritage can at times be irritating, but on the whole she engages, realistically depicted making the sort of daily decisions teens make about classmates, teachers, family and hobbies.

To mitigate the previously mentioned flaws, the author's exceptionally graceful writing style borders on poetic, blending the everyday details of life with elements of the supernatural, even providing a little romance in an emotionally intense, satisfying way that holds the readers' interest. The swiftly moving plot helps, too -- similarly, the humorous exchanges between Bridget and Xiii and the compelling climax in which the Jordan and the Althea plot strands merge in a surprising way. The "be true to yourself" theme, the believable characters and the vivid storytelling makes The Other Ones an entertaining, enjoyable fantasy that puts the sparkle of magic in the midst of the mundane, offering enough depth that adults can also read it with pleasure.

[ by Amy Harlib ]

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