Author: Margaret Mahy
What it's about: So Roland's a normal high school student. Good grades, well-liked, great girlfriend. Life's going pretty well, a nice change from his younger years when his father left his family and his mother had to struggle to raise him and his two brothers. But then Roland's teacher confronts him about some shoplifting he did. Instead of reporting Roland, however, Mr. Hudson makes a curious deal with him: befriend class outcast Jess Ferret and report to him on her. Roland agrees because it seems a lot better than harming his reputation, but Jess Ferret turns out to be more than your normal unpopular girl. There's something strange about her, and it seems to be connected to a suppressed strangeness in Roland himself.
What I thought: I read this book once quite a few years ago and remember finding it really strange and hard to read. It's actually not. This is a good piece of light fantasy. Roland's a well developed character, complex, but not in a way that a seventeen-year-old boy wouldn't be. The climactic encounter of the book is weird, but in a Diana Wynne Jones sort of way, in that while it's describing very out of the ordinary things, you're able to follow what's going on and it all makes sense and doesn't feel like the author's just pulling crap outta thin air. This book mixes the mundane and the arcane in a very enjoyable manner, basically. You get domestic scenes followed by discussion of alchemy and the powers of the world, and it works. There's some interesting insights, too, on the nature of the world and how people view it.
Overall: Definitely a unique book and worth a try for open-minded fantasy fans.