The Changeover

“The day spread its strangeness before her resigned eyes, its horror growing thin and wispy as it sank away. The flow came back into the world once more, and the warning became a memory, eagerly forgotten because it was useless to remember it. The warning had come. She had ignored it. There was nothing more to be said.”

Girls Underground books usually involve some kind of magic, but I think the magic in The Changeover by Margaret Mahy is some of the most nuanced and vivid I’ve read thus far, echoing some of my own experience. It deserves its status as a favorite in modern witchcraft and paganism.

Laura, a teenager, feels a strong internal warning one morning – something she’s come to trust after past warnings were validated, like the time her father left them – but doesn’t expect the form of the danger that she’s headed for. While walking with her young brother, she encounters a strange new shop and a perilous shop-keeper, who gives the brother an innocuous-seeming gift that makes it possible for the shop-keeper to slowly drain his vitality. When doctors are unable to diagnose or treat her rapidly ailing brother, Laura turns to a school acquaintance, who she just knows in her gut is a witch. He is, in fact, along with his mother and grandmother, and they become companion and guides, respectively. They want to help Laura but know the adversary will immediately sense their power and not let them get near enough to challenge him. So they suggest a changeover – turn Laura into a witch herself, and she can confront the unsuspecting adversary.

Laura embarks on an initiatory journey to the otherworld, in one of the best such sequences I’ve ever read in these books. She returns transformed. In the final showdown, she alone manages to trick the adversary and reverse the energy flow, not only saving her brother but ultimately destroying the adversary.

“Even without witchcraft, the world grew slightly unbelievable, as if part of her were a reading eye and most of her was a character moving through a story – a character, moreover, who had begun to suspect that she might not be entirely real, might be nothing but a puppet, or words on a printed page.”

[ETA: This was made into a movie in 2017 featuring a creepy Timothy Spall as the Adversary, but unfortunately most of the magic of the book could not be captured on the screen.]