Half Bad by Sally Green: not just black and white

Title: half badHalf Bad

Author: Sally Green

Genre: YA fantasy/paranormal

Length: 394 pages

Published by: Penguin

Source: Won from Shaheen @ Speculating on Spec Fic (THANKS SHAHEEN!!)


Half Bad by Sally Green is a breathtaking debut novel about one boy’s struggle for survival in a hidden society of witches.

You can’t read, can’t write, but you heal fast, even for a witch.

You get sick if you stay indoors after dark.

You hate White Witches but love Annalise, who is one.

You’ve been kept in a cage since you were fourteen.

All you’ve got to do is escape and find Mercury, the Black Witch who eats boys. And do that before your seventeenth birthday.


Get it, because there are 394 pages in this book? Yes?

I’ll be quiet now.

I was very scared I would not like this book.

There was SO MUCH hype for it, both negative and positive, and I was like, “I HAVE TO KNOW WHETHER I WILL LIKE THIS BOOK.” Because you get curious, you know? You start wondering what your own reaction will be like. It’s like the ultimate tension.

And you’re reading the first few pages, and those first few pages ALREADY tell you if you’re going to like it, and you’re worried you won’t, and basically it’s like this:



Haaaaallelujah. Haaaaaaallelujah. Isn’t it great when that happens? This is certainly not my type of book, usually. I read contemporary YA. I am contemporary YA’s biggest fan. I don’t go in for the torture or the witches or the cages, usually. I mean, not that that particular combination occurs that often. But hey, so many people recommended this, and then I won it, and I was SO intrigued.

So let’s make a list. Yes? Lists are good. We like lists.

1) Writing style = awesome

There were lots of really short chapters (I like short chapters because they correspond to my attention span as well as my height, ie also short). And lots of things that weren’t traditional ways to write a story in. That didn’t make much sense. But just know that this story is told in a way that is brilliantly unique and raw and with incredible voice. However, some of these unique features did drop away once we got into the novel.

For example, at the start we had different kinds of tense and POV – there was second person present tense, and then first person, and it was all very interesting. This didn’t stick through the whole thing, though, which was a shame.


2) Nathan. Poor, dear Nathan.

Nathan’s voice absolutely ROCKED. Dear Nathan…

He is tortured and teased and scarred and belittled and made to feel like an awful person, when in reality, NONE OF THIS IS HIS FAULT. It’s not his fault he’s half Black Witch. There are some scenes in this book that are actually pretty gruesome. Well, for my standards. I’m a bit squeamish when it comes to torture and such. So anyway, Nathan is a fantastic narrator – scared and brave at the same time, naive and a bit brainwashed by thoughts of his father, and ohhhhh was it heart-breaking.


3) Despite what you might think, it’s not all black and white.

We have White Witches and Black Witches. Supposedly, the white ones are the “good guys” while the Black White are persecuted and discriminated against. What I love about speculative fiction is when it does things like this – when it makes me think of our own world and the inequalities here. But not all White Witches were good in the novel, and not all Black Witches were bad. It’s COMPLEX. There’s no good and evil, only degrees of both. Take Celia, for example – the one who is keeping Nathan imprisoned. Sure, it’s awful what she’s doing, but then there are these sections when it almost seems logical. And Sally Green is an amazing writer for being able to do that.

So those are the three main things I liked.

There was also one main thing I DIDN’T like.


1) Pacing

At some parts it was really really fast, but then other parts I was like…okay, is something going to happen now or what?


But apart from that, Half Bad is a terrifying speculation with incredible voice and complex characters.

Plus, look at this! The Australian editions have both front and back covers. Except instead of silver it’s white. And it’s matte so it feels absolutely lovely. Gosh I love book covers.

half bad half bad silver

And if we’re lucky we’ll get two for Half Wild…

Question time! Have you ever read second person, present tense in a novel, even for little snippets? What are your thoughts on it?

18 thoughts on “Half Bad by Sally Green: not just black and white

  1. Uh oh I haven’t read any negative reviews for this one! Ahh it’s exactly my type and it looks so darn good and I’m worried it will end up disappointing me. I’m glad you liked it though. I adore the premise. I’m trying to keep my expectations down though.

    -P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex

  2. I am SO GLAD you liked Half Bad.
    You know when you love a book and you just want to go on about how awesome it is, but then you find out someone is reading it and you’re super scared that they won’t like it…
    So, yes, I’m glad you liked it.
    And, yeah, the 2nd person stuff was awesome. I was a little disappointed when it disappeared.

    • SO AM I. Isn’t it awesome when books live up to expectations? Oh, I feel you though. When I give books to my friends IRL and just bite my nails hoping they’ll like it 😛

      Yes, I so wish there was more of the second person. I loved it.

  3. Haha – LOVE the Snape gif and how appropriate too!
    I’ve heard so many things about this book (and most of the negative too) so I’m glad to read a positive review. An awesome writing style is definitely a plus but the frustrating pacing seems a little less great. Second person present tense is something I’ve read before and I wasn’t a fan. I think it must be hard to write an entire novel in this way and keep it clear and compelling. Great review, Emily 🙂

    • If it’s at all possible to fit a HP gif into a review, I will find that opportunity. I’ve heard a LOT of negative for this book, actually. Which was why I was kind of worried…especially since it’s not something I usually read. The second person is done really well, though. I was pretty scared that it would be for the WHOLE book, but it wasn’t, and those little snippets were so well done.

  4. I’ve read ‘Half Bad’ and thought it was pretty good too. The pacing did seem a bit dragging in a *few* parts, but overall I did find it an enjoyable read with the interesting writing style. Making the pun with the title like you did, is just something you can’t resist ( because if there’s a bad joke to be made, chances are I’ll make it). Extra points for that awesome and very appropriate HP Snape gif! 🙂

    • Hahahaha the pun is RIGHT THERE. Of course I have to make use of it! Would also work for a negative review. “It wasn’t half bad, it was ALL bad.” Haha. Lame puns FTW. And I didn’t even realise it was 394 pages until I checked on Goodreads, so that was a bonus 😛

  5. I read this one earlier this year — I liked it, but I was kinda disappointed because I was expecting something a bit…more, if that makes any sense. However I liked it enough to be excited for the sequel. (Have you seen its cover, by the way? It’s sooooo pretty!) And I do agree with you about the pacing, though I did love the short chapters. 🙂 I personally loved the use of second person. I think in some instances it can be really really effective — like it was here. I don’t think I’ve read anything else with second person present tense before (not that I can recall from the top of my head, though), but I’ve written a novel in second person PAST tense. (If you’re wondering the novel was structured as a letter, so it just made sense.) Anyway, lovely review.

  6. I loved this book, too, for all the reasons you give here. That’s all I wanted to say, really. 🙂 Oh, and I’ve never read another book which uses the technique Sally Green uses at the beginning of this one – the second person POV, I mean – or, at least, none that I can remember right now. I don’t think it’d work well if it was overused, and I think she gets it just right. Great review, again.

  7. I loved this book so much! It was really different from what I thought it was going to be, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I can’t wait for the sequel! 🙂

  8. I AM SO EXCITED FOR HALF WILD I CANNOT EVEN. JADFKSLA THIS SERIES IS LIKE ONE OF MY FAVOURITES NOW. *hugs Half Bad* It was pretty freaky with the torture, though, right?! I was crying just a little. You know, just a few sobs here and there. Omg, you poor poor baby, little Nathan. He just needs a hug and for his freaking dad to come rescue him. SOMEONE RESCUE THE LAD. I kind of agree with the pacing. Sometimes I was freaking out because it seemed to slow, and I just felt something really awful was going to happen any minute. I seriously cannot WAIT for Half Wild.

  9. Haha, I agree, this one was a bit weird in some aspects because the beginning was pretty fast, but the middle part dragged so much. It became an adventure story where he goes from one place to the next in an incredibly short pace. And then the climax was over in a few pages!! That was one of the reasons why I couldn’t give this more stars. Oh, yeah, I also hated the love interest. What a bloody useless and doormat character (imo). I’m sorry for saying that if you liked her >_< I just wish she was more fleshed out considering Nathan is a complex person. In any case, great reviewwww! Next book should be interesting.

    Faye at The Social Potato

  10. I thought the way the book was set out was done briliantly, but then the conclusion was kind of wrapped up a bit too nicely you know? It was a really sad story about a boy who was tortured simply for being, and I thought it would all go somewhere, but it didn’t end up going anywhere, which was frustrating. The writing was really unique though, so I ended up giving it a 3.5.

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