As a little girl, Ellery attended church with her grandmother and imagined what it would be like if the statues of saints and angels came to life. At sixteen, she joined a Wiccan coven hoping to discover a little real magic. She and the other members of her coven travel to a distant farm where they meet up with other covens to celebrate Beltane. As the festivities get into full swing, she heads to the edge of the woods by herself, feeling disappointed that she hasn't yet experienced any magic like what she'd dreamed of. But when a mysterious boy stops by to introduce himself, she may get exactly what she's wanted for so long.
In Little Gods, sixteen-year-old Ellery is part of a Wiccan coven that travels to a distant farm to celebrate Beltane. She joined the coven in hopes of experiencing a little real magic in her life, and she just might get her wish during the holiday. I enjoyed the magical encounter Ellery had with the mysterious "boy," Aspen, but ultimately it felt like a mere moment out of time rather than a complete and satisfying story. Little Gods is a very short story of only about twenty-five pages, yet Aspen's appearance lasts a mere 2 ½ pages. I wanted to know more about him, where he came from and who he actually was. Unfortunately, my curiosity was not to be appeased. The remaining 22 ½ pages are devoted to Ellery's reasons for joining a Wiccan coven and their spiritual practices, particularly surrounding Beltane. To my way of thinking, this made the story seem more like a fictional exploration of a Wiccan girl's beliefs and experiences within her religious group more so than a fantasy story.
While I may have thought Garth Nix's story was a little mature for this collection (Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron) based on the age of the protagonists and some advanced vocabulary, it was still quite tame when compared to Little Gods. For anyone who doesn't know, the Wiccan celebration of Beltane is a lushly sensual experience, where virtually anything goes. As such, the story contained some fairly mature content for the middle grade/YA audience at which the anthology seems to be aimed. Ellery drinks from a water bottle, only to discover it's actually alcohol, but that doesn't stop her or her companion from having some more. There is mention of background characters smoking marijuana. A secondary character uses a very strong bad word that I've never seen in a YA story before. Some of the female supporting characters dance topless around the fire in the company of young men. And last but certainly not least, there is a bit of sexual innuendo, as well as a fair amount of discussion about opposite sex, same sex, and multiple partner make-out sessions, with implications of a lot more possibly occurring behind the scenes. With all this in mind, even though Ellery doesn't indulge in any of these activities other than drinking alcohol, I would say this story is definitely not appropriate for middle grade readers, and I would strongly caution teenage readers. Even though I would like to think of teens as relatively innocent, I realize that most of them are probably aware of all these things if they haven't personally encountered them already, but I still can't really recommend it for anyone under the age of sixteen and even then with certain reservations.
Overall, I can say that Little Gods was well-written with regards to the mechanics, and the general writing style was engaging. However, I would have preferred a little more fantasy and a little less exploration of spiritual beliefs.
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