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Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale

When Kaye was a little girl, she had faerie friends.  When she and her glam-rock mom moved, the faeries disappeared.  As Kaye grew older, she began to think the faeries had just been a product of her imagination.  But when she returns to her childhood home, Kaye discovers not only that her faerie friends are real, but that she herself is a faerie.  Her friends convince her to help them escape seven years’ bondage to the Unseelie Court, a court of dark fae.  Kaye enters a frightening world, where magic works and faeries struggle for power.

Tithe is a book for young adults.  It is not a book for children.  If you are a parent considering giving this book to your child, read it first.  I would not put this in the hands of anyone I didn’t consider a grown up.  What does that mean?  I have students to whom I could comfortably recommend this book.  I also have students to whom I would never recommend this book.  Tithe is dark, both in its real-world and its fantastical elements.  Reading through the reviews at Amazon, I found a lot of complaints that it was too grown up to be a young adult book.  I also read a lot of complaints about the behavior of the central characters.

Kaye and her friends are New Jersey trailer trash.  They wander through life without significant purpose.  Kaye is a high school dropout, forced to leave school so she could support her mom’s career in rock music.  Kaye’s friends are ravers.  They smoke, they drink, and they commit acts of debauchery.  The same could be said of any of the faeries in the book.  Tithe presents a view of teenage life that many readers would prefer to ignore.  That doesn’t make it a bad book.  It makes it an honest book.  Even though we haven’t experienced something firsthand, we can see when things are true.  While I would never have been friends with Kaye in high school, my best friend associated with a crowd of kids who would have.  I knew those kids, and I was polite to them, but I avoided them.  That didn’t make them imaginary or contrived.

Tithe‘s greatest strength is its examination of illusions, obligations, and consequences.  At various points, Kaye learns that her friends, both human and fae, are not what they seem.  She learns about the nature of obligation.  And her actions have distinct, permanent consequences.  Another strength is Black’s use of traditional faerie lore.  The Seelie and Unseelie courts, as well as the Unseelie Queen Nicnevin, are elements taken from Scottish faerie legend.  Holly Black moves them across the Atlantic and sets them in New Jersey, where broken-down boardwalks are more common than fantastical forests.  Where she works her magic is she makes them seem like they belong there.  There is nothing unnatural about the Faerie we see in Tithe.  At no point did I think, “Faeries?  In Jersey?”  Black’s seamless interweaving of modern and mythical elements is a rare talent.

Tithe made me very uncomfortable.  It also made me cry.  Those two things, taken together, mark good art.  Tithe is, above all, compelling.  When it was over, I was confused because I had been so engrossed in the world of the book.  Lucky for me that Valiant and Ironside are set in the same universe, isn’t it?

Book: Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale (Affiliate Link)
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Original Publication Date: 2004
Pages: 336
Age Range: Young Adult
Source of Book: Library
Other Blog Reviews: Twisted Kingdom, Stainless Steel Droppings, CheriePie’s Book Reviews, Wands and Worlds

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