Laura Williams McCaffrey, . . Clarion, $15 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-618-19461-2
In an insightful debut fantasy, a mystical connection to trees helps the 12-year-old heroine discover that warriors don't have to use a weapon or draw blood to win a battle. Alia and her best friend, Kay, yearn to become "keentens" (warrior women) when they turn 13, so they can join the war that has already taken the lives of two of Alia's brothers. The choice is easy for Kay, who excels in the war arts, but not for Alia, whose talents lie in communicating with the wild magic of the trees. Even so, both girls decide to prove their warrior worthiness by capturing two young Beechians ("a foolish, stubborn, savage people") whom Kay has spied hiding out in Trantian territory. However, when the girls take their prisoners to the keentens, certain they will be welcomed into the sisterhood, they face censure for their behavior and must wait for the village wizard to decide their fate. Despite some familiar plot devices—sacred woods, wise women, evil magicians—the novel succeeds in its realistic depiction of a girl's coming of age. Alia's struggle to accept (or deny) her natural talents and her attempts to alter herself in order to preserve a childhood friendship will resonate with readers. Ages 9-14.
Reviewed on: 01/20/2003