The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder: B

headlesscupidFrom the back cover:
Eleven-year-old David is about to meet his new stepsister, Amanda, who is only one year older than he is. Amanda arrives at their big old house wearing a huge tattered shawl and carrying a sharp-eyed crow in a cage. She is hardly what David expects. Before long, she introduces David to a strange world of witchcraft and the occult.

At first, spells and potions are fun. He enjoys the spooky chants and smoky seances. Even his younger brother and sisters join in, making sure their parents suspect nothing. But when rocks of all sizes start flying around the house and strange things go crash in the night, David begins to fear the strange forces at work.

When the Stanley siblings meet their new stepsister, who has mastered the art of disdain and claims to be well-versed in the occult, they all fall under her spell to various degrees. They undergo various ordeals to become qualified wizards (annoying their parents a good deal in the process), conduct a séance, and endure a mysterious pelting of rocks throughout the house. The truth about these incidents, long obvious to the reader, eventually becomes clear and what seems on its surface to be a supernatural tale is really a story about the effects of divorce on children.

Rated for readers age twelve and up, The Headless Cupid skews a bit younger than that, and for a time its theme seems to be, “Gee, siblings are the pits.” Gradually, it heads into more subtle territory, particularly as regards Amanda’s complicated feelings towards the adults in her life. Still, as an adult, there were no surprises in the narrative for me and I admit to being somewhat disappointed that it wasn’t genuinely spookier.

It’s a pretty fun read, though, and the best thing that can be said about it is that the children are by no means idealized. Amanda is possessed of the surly, affected boredom of a twelve-year-old and the younger kids are often rambunctious and a bit rude. David is the only one that comes off as a bit too good, but he does take some ribbing for this and laments his inability to ever be cool, so that’s alright.

I don’t know that I’d recommend this to adults in general, and maybe not to any teens who’ve already achieved the surly stage themselves, but I bet it’d be great fun to read to a kid about nine or ten.

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  1. I loved this author when I was a child! My favorites of hers were The Egypt Game, The Witches of Worm, and The Changeling; I’m not sure how well they’d stand up to a reread, though.

    • The only other one of hers I’ve read is The Egypt Game. I was an adult at the time and liked it quite a bit, so I think they might stand up better than you think. 🙂

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