Cover image for Spellbound
McDonald, Janet, 1953-2007.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Frances Foster Books, 2001.
Physical Description:
138 pages ; 22 cm
Raven, a teenage mother and high school dropout living in a housing project, decides, with the help and sometime interference of her best friend Aisha, to study for a spelling bee which could lead to a college preparatory program and four-year scholarship.
Reading Level:
580 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 4.4 4.0 55306.

Reading Counts RC High School 6.5 9 Quiz: 28227 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A fresh new voice on the YA scene. Raven's life has been derailed. She never expected she'd be a mother at sixteen like her best friend, Aisha, and she's afraid she's going to be just another high school dropout, a project girl with few prospects. And although Raven is ambitious, when is she going to find the time to finish school in the few minutes she's not looking for a job or caring for her infant son, Smokey? Then her older sister, Dell, tells her about a spelling bee that promises the winner enrollment in a college prepprogram and a scholarship. But spelling? There isn't a subject she's worse at! Still, Raven is fiercely determined to win, and so she starts memorizing words.In Janet McDonald's powerful and funny novel, a smart and resilient young woman whose life isn't what she dreamed it would be learns that there are many ways to spell SUCCESS.

Author Notes

Janet McDonald (1953-2007) is the author of the adult memoir Project Girl. This was her first novel for young adults.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 7-12. One of the best of the many recent stories about teens in the city projects, this first novel is read-aloud funny, even as it tells the harsh truth about how hard it is to break free. Raven Jefferson, 16, a bookish student, was sure she was on her way to college like her older sister, Dell--perfect childless Dell, with her big salary and her small hips. But Raven got pregnant after her first sexual experience, and now she's stuck at home, bored and cooped up with a baby all day. Raven's girlfriend Aisha is also a single parent, and their talk--from hair to music to boys--manages to be hilarious, wild, insulting, and irreverent without using curse words. Unlike Aisha, Raven will eventually get to college, but not before she's had to confront issues of race and class prejudice. Many teens, especially fans of the movie Ghost World, will recognize Raven's cruel encounters with the job scene. McDonald wrote the acclaimed adult memoir Project Girl (1999), and what's great in this novel is the depiction of the grim reality of the neighborhood and the slick cliches of success. Best of all, she humanizes the individual people behind the stereotype of poor people who are "project trash." --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

A "housing project girl" sees her chance to gain independence and to carve out a better life for herself and her son in the form of a spelling bee. "A chorus of highly authentic, lively young voices convey heartbreak and dreams," wrote PW. Ages 12-up. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up-Sixteen-year-old Raven, a once-promising student in spite of her impoverished home and single mother's limited education, has been derailed by the birth of a baby conceived during her first sexual encounter. The father of her child was a stranger to her when they met at a party and doesn't know the extended ramifications of their meeting. Raven finds herself teetering on the brink of forgoing any life beyond her Brooklyn-project apartment, the baby, the only sort of job open to a high school dropout, and her best friend's brash "welfare recipient" influence. Then Raven's older sister hears about a college prep and scholarship program and goads her into studying for the spelling bee through which program participants are identified. In spite of the baby, in spite of a fast-food job, in spite of her best friend's loud mocking, and in spite of the reemergence of the baby's father into her life, the African-American teen decides to learn to spell so that she can compete, so that she can win. McDonald has created a vital cast of characters, giving them authentic voices and motivations. Even while cheering for Raven, readers will understand her best friend's hesitancy. The baby's father is depicted in both his lack of maturity and his desire to get beyond his parents' prejudices. Raven's mother is strong and reliable, clearly able to cope with the crises life hands her and hers. Among the shelves of novels about teenage girls dealing with unplanned babies, this is a standout.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.