1. Toil and Trouble edited by Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood
I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for consideration of an honest review.
A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era.
Are you a good witch or a bad witch?
Glinda the Good Witch. Elphaba the Wicked Witch. Willow. Sabrina. Gemma Doyle. The Mayfair Witches. Ursula the Sea Witch. Morgan le Fey. The three weird sisters from Macbeth.
History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations.
Bold. Powerful. Rebellious.
A bruja’s traditional love spell has unexpected results. A witch’s healing hands begin to take life instead of giving it when she ignores her attraction to a fellow witch. In a terrifying future, women are captured by a cabal of men crying witchcraft and the one true witch among them must fight to free them all. In a desolate past, three orphaned sisters prophesize for a murderous king. Somewhere in the present, a teen girl just wants to kiss a boy without causing a hurricane.
From good witches to bad witches, to witches who are a bit of both, this is an anthology of diverse witchy tales from a collection of diverse, feminist authors. The collective strength of women working together—magically or mundanely–has long frightened society, to the point that women’s rights are challenged, legislated against, and denied all over the world. Toil & Trouble delves deep into the truly diverse mythology of witchcraft from many cultures and feminist points of view, to create modern and unique tales of witchery that have yet to be explored.
I am very excited that anthologies seem to be gaining in popularity in YA. Toil and Trouble is the latest I’ve read in a decent line of YA anthologies, and it is by far one of the strongest. Toil and Trouble contains several different stories about witches, and there’s a wide buffet of offerings. You want historical witches? Got it. Modern witches? Got it. Spooky stories? It’s here. Romantic stories? Yes. Queer stories? Oh, yes. Unlike many anthologies, there were no stories I actively disliked or couldn’t get through. i found one or two only so-so, but even that is a good rate for an anthology, and the rest I all actively enjoyed to various degrees. My favorite stories were I, Starsong by Tehlor Kay Mejia (which I instantly wanted as a full-length novel), the Gherin Girls by Emery Lord, and Why they Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May. On the whole, this is one of the strongest YA anthologies I’ve come across in a long time and heartily recommend it to any witch-loving reader. 4/5 stars.
2. Nothing Left to Burn by Heather Ezell
The autumn morning after sixteen-year-old Audrey Harper loses her virginity, she wakes to a loud, persistent knocking at her front door. Waiting for her are two firemen, there to let her know that the moment she’s been dreading has arrived: the enormous wildfire sweeping through Orange County, California, is now dangerously close to her idyllic gated community of Coto de Caza, and it’s time to evacuate.
Over the course of the next twenty-four hours, as Audrey wrestles with the possibility of losing her family home, she also recalls her early, easy summer days with Brooks, the charming, passionate, but troubled volunteer firefighter who enchants Audrey–and who is just as enthralled by her. But as secrets from Brooks’s dark past come to light, Audrey can’t help but wonder if there’s danger in the pull she feels–both toward this boy, and toward the fire burning in the distance.
Nothing Left to Burn takes place mainly over the course of one day, and during that day the reader sees main character Audrey deal with some strong emotional turmoil. While she’s having to evacuate because her house is in the path of a California wildfire, she’s also dealing with conflicting thoughts about Brooks, her boyfriend she’s been obsessed with. Audrey and Brooks’ relationship starts strong, but through the story we see how Ezell unravels how toxic it really was. Nothing Left to Burn is a book that deals with this topic in a nuanced way. Nothing is over the top or dramatic, but instead the book shows how insidious an unhealthy relationship can be. While this book wasn’t a favorite for me, I think it has a lot of potential for other readers. 3/5 stars.
3. Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.
As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?
Warnings for: child abuse, violence, homophobic language
I read Monday’s Not Coming at the tail end of a reading slump, and this book broke me out of that slump like that no other. Monday’s Not Coming is about a girl who goes missing. . . and nobody notices. Well, almost nobody. The only person who seems to realize that Monday has vanished is her best friend, Claudia. After being away all summer, Claudia is looking forward to seeing her best friend on the first day of eight grade, but she doesn’t show. This is followed by a string of days in which Monday never shows up, and everybody seems to have an excuse for why. . . but those change daily too.
Monday’s Not Coming is a very rough book to read at times. It’s a thriller, but it also shines a spotlight on who’s story gets told when something bad happens. A young black girl from the projects goes missing, and it’s like she never existed. If the same had happened to a middle-class white girl, it’s clear what the difference would be. There are some twists and turns in Monday’s Not Coming, which should not be a spoiler as this book is a thriller, but some were more surprising than others. The central “mystery” of the book is not really much of a mystery at all, but the brilliance is in how Jackson slowly unravels the threads around Monday’s disappearance. You know what’s coming, but you can’t help but to be on the edge of your seat anyway. With it’s bleakness and violence, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to stomach reading this book again, but I know it will remain in my mind for a long, long time. 4/5 stars.