Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.
Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.
Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!
Title: We Ride Upon Sticks Author: Quan Barry Published: 2020 Length: 360 pages
What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):
In the town of Danvers, Massachusetts, home of the original 1692 witch trials, the 1989 Danvers Falcons will do anything to make it to the state finals–even if it means tapping into some devilishly dark powers. Against a background of irresistible 1980s iconography, Quan Barry expertly weaves together the individual and collective progress of this enchanted team as they storm their way through an unforgettable season.
Helmed by good-girl captain Abby Putnam (a descendant of the infamous Salem accuser Ann Putnam) and her co-captain Jen Fiorenza (whose bleached blond “Claw” sees and knows all), the Falcons prove to be wily, original, and bold, flaunting society’s stale notions of femininity. Through the crucible of team sport and, more importantly, friendship, this comic tour de female force chronicles Barry’s glorious cast of characters as they charge past every obstacle on the path to finding their glorious true selves.
How and when I got it:
I picked up a used paperback at a thrift shop about a year ago.
Why I want to read it:
I had almost forgotten that I own this book, until I was rearranging some books and found this one tucked behind a couple of others on the shelf. What great timing! This just seems perfect for the witchy month of October.
I’m always up for a good witch story, and I like the sound of the Salem descendants invoking ancient powers to win their championship. Between the 1980s timeframe and the emphasis on friendship, this sounds like it could be a really engaging read… and I’m glad I unearthed it this week, right in time for Halloween.
Is it wrong for a grown-ass woman to be completely in love with a teen TV series? If so… well, guilty as charged. I binge-watched this adorable, addictive series over the past week, and become instantly obsessed.
Love, Victor is a Hulu original series that starts out as a spin-off of the 2018 movie Love, Simon (which is an adaptation of the 2015 young adult novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli). Got all that? Love, Victor has just aired its 2nd season, and if anything, it’s even better than the first.
Each of the two seasons includes ten 30-minute episodes — perfect for nonstop bingeing!
The storyline centers on lead character Victor Salazar, a 15-year-old whose family has moved from Texas to Atlanta after a messy situation (not immediately explained) involving his parents. Victor, along with his two siblings, has to start over, and for Victor, it’s a chance to redefine himself and figure out who he wants to be.
He’s heard great things about Creekwood High, especially when it comes to Simon Spier, a former student who was cheered on by the entire student body when he had the ultimate romantic moment kissing the boy of his dreams on a ferris wheel. (See Love, Simon or read the book if you want to know more!) For Victor, he’s inspired by the idea of Simon, but also annoyed that Simon’s situation seemed to be so easy while for Victor it’s complicated as hell.
For starters, Victor is the son of conservative Catholic Latinx parents who are fine with tolerating nontraditional approaches to life, so long as they’re not in their own family. Victor is also trying to understand his own sexuality, definitely attracted to boys but not quite ready to come out or declare himself gay.
When Mia Brooks, a totally sweet and cute popular girl, takes an interest in Victor, he allows himself to fall into a relationship with her. He likes her and thinks she’s great, and quickly learns that being Mia’s boyfriend gives him instant acceptance at Creekwood. (Being a top basketball player doesn’t hurt either). He even likes kissing her… although when she’s ready for more and he’s absolutely not, he has to face some hard facts — like he’s just not attracted to girls.
Meanwhile, Victor develops an immediate and intense crush on Benji, an out and proud gay boy who attends his high school (and who I think looks distractingly like Rob Pattinson/Edward Cullen). Victor works with Benji at the local coffee shop, where they become good friends, although Victor doesn’t dare admit to his growing more-than-friendly feelings.
Season 1 ends with Victor and Benji embarking on a new chapter and with Victor coming out to his parents. And it’s awesome! And even more awesome that I watched the season when the 2nd season had already dropped, so I could continue straight on through.
Season 2 picks up right where season 1 ends, with Victor coming out to his parents, who are not able to put aside their own biases in order to give him the support he needs. While dealing with his parents’ reactions (especially his mother’s), Victor and Benji are moving forward with their relationship, navigating being out as a couple at school and what that might mean for them.
Victor faces hostility and intolerance from some of his basketball teammates, which becomes one of the season’s overarching storylines. The show also shows Victor and his best friend Felix’s parallel journeys into first love, first relationships, and losing their virginity. I really appreciated the honesty and anxiety depicted about becoming sexually active, feeling really nervous about it, and figuring out whether they’re ready.
Victor and Benji are lovely together, although over the season, certain differences between them build up obstacles that neither had foreseen while in the rosy days of first love. And as the season winds to a close, a love triangle comes into play and the series has the inconsiderate audacity to end on a cliffhanger!
I’m totally Team Benji, by the way, and if you want to know why, you might want to check out this adorable clip:
And just another little taste of sweetness:
I don’t want to give the wrong impression, that this show is just sweetness and light and sweet kissy moments. The characters all face challenges and emotional ups and downs, both the teens and the adults. In season 2, there are many heavier moments, including Felix’s struggle to support his bipolar mother, a Muslim boy’s desire to live his truth but fearing his parents’ reactions, and issues of trust and secrets that affect several of the couples in the series. Additionally, Victor’s parents’ storyline in season 2 is especially strong, as they deal with both the strains in their marriage and their different reactions to Victor’s coming out.
The acting is strong all around in both seasons. Season 2 features some great cameos, and the main cast is terrific all the way through.
I can’t recommend Love, Victor highly enough! I’m thrilled that Hulu has confirmed renewal for a 3rd season already, although I’m frantic over that cliffhanger ending and the fact that it’ll probably be a year before season 3 airs. That’s a long time to be in suspense!
But seriously, check out this sensitive, sweet, funny show. It may be a teen TV series, but adults will love it too.
Title: Perfect on Paper Author: Sophie Gonzales Publisher: Wednesday Books Publication date: March 9, 2021 Length: 304 pages Genre: Young adult fiction Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley Rating:
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
In Sophie Gonzales’ Perfect on Paper, Leah on the Offbeat meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before: a bisexual girl who gives anonymous love advice to her classmates is hired by the hot guy to help him get his ex back
Her advice, spot on. Her love life, way off.
• Can give you the solution to any of your relationship woes―for a fee.
• Uses her power for good. Most of the time.
• Really cannot stand Alexander Brougham.
• Has maybe not the best judgement when it comes to her best friend, Brooke…who is in love with someone else.
• Does not appreciate being blackmailed.
However, when Brougham catches her in the act of collecting letters from locker 89―out of which she’s been running her questionably legal, anonymous relationship advice service―that’s exactly what happens. In exchange for keeping her secret, Darcy begrudgingly agrees to become his personal dating coach―at a generous hourly rate, at least. The goal? To help him win his ex-girlfriend back.
Darcy has a good reason to keep her identity secret. If word gets out that she’s behind the locker, some things she’s not proud of will come to light, and there’s a good chance Brooke will never speak to her again.
Okay, so all she has to do is help an entitled, bratty, (annoyingly hot) guy win over a girl who’s already fallen for him once? What could go wrong?
Darcy Phillips is seventeen, well-intentioned, and caught in the act.
A high school junior, Darcy has a thriving business going at her school, offering relationship advice — anonymously — via notes left in an abandoned locker that only she has access to. Students drop their notes, along with the $10 fee, in the locker, and Darcy replies via email with well-researched, supportive advice. Results guaranteed! She offers a refund for failed advice, and is proud of only having to give back the fee once (and even then, blames the failure on the letter writer not providing a full picture of the situation).
But one day, Darcy gets caught by a boy she barely knows as she retrieves the day’s stash of letters from locker 89. He offers her a deal — he’ll keep her secret, but she has to act as his personal relationship coach. He wants his ex-girlfriend back, and wants to hire Darcy to show him how to make it happen. Since he’s offering to pay her for her time, and since keeping the secret is vital, Darcy agrees.
Darcy is an out and proud member of the school’s Q&Q (Queer and Questioning) club, identifying as bi. She’s supportive of her friends, a devoted sister, and very proud of the professionalism she applies to her locker/advice business. But Darcy also has a secret — she’s in love with her best friend Brooke, and when Brooke and a girl interested in her each wrote to the locker the previous year asking for advice on how to move the interest forward, Darcy intentionally sabotaged them out of jealousy. She’s not proud of what she did, and she’s deathly afraid that Brooke would never forgive her if she knew the truth. (Fair point — it was a lousy thing to do.)
Meanwhile, Darcy’s coaching of Brougham helps her get to know him, and while she’s supporting him through his relationship woes, she’s startled to realize she may have feelings for him.
There’s so much to like about Perfect on Paper! The characters are all well-drawn individuals, quirky and unpredictable, and feel very much like real people with real feelings. They’re messy and make bad decisions from time to time, but hey, perfection isn’t reality. Brougham’s home life is terrible despite his wealth, and Darcy’s home life, while full of love, is also not providing her with the support and attention she needs. Perfect on Paper shows that to truly understand someone, it’s necessary to dig deeper, go beyond immediate impressions, and have compassion for the things that may not be obvious.
It’s wonderful to see bi representation presented as thoughtfully as it is with Darcy. Darcy comes across as very confident, and she is in many ways, but she also carries a lot of weight with her around being bi — from being asked if she’s “turning straight” when she gets involved with a boy, to fear that her Q&Q friends won’t accept her as one of them depending on who she dates, to the frustration of having to endlessly explain that being bi doesn’t equate to inability to be in a committed, monogamous relationship. The author does a fabulous job of showing Darcy’s depths and insecurities, as well as the importance of a supportive community.
Overall, I really enjoyed Perfect on Paper. There’s a feeling of lightness to it, even when the characters go through darker moments, and a nice balance of fun and seriousness. Darcy is a terrific main character, but the supporting characters are all wonderful too. Definitely recommended!
I started two different YA novels right at the end of December, and finished both by January 3rd. I haven’t read a whole lot of YA lately, and I’m definitely not in the target demographic, so take my reviews with lots of grains of salt, please.
Title:You Have a Match Author: Emma Lord Upcoming release: January 12, 2021 Length: 320 pages Rating:
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
From the beloved author of Tweet Cute comes Emma Lord’s You Have a Match, a YA novel of family, friendship, romance and sisterhood…
When Abby signs up for a DNA service, it’s mainly to give her friend and secret love interest, Leo, a nudge. After all, she knows who she is already: Avid photographer. Injury-prone tree climber. Best friend to Leo and Connie…although ever since the B.E.I. (Big Embarrassing Incident) with Leo, things have been awkward on that front.
But she didn’t know she’s a younger sister.
When the DNA service reveals Abby has a secret sister, shimmery-haired Instagram star Savannah Tully, it’s hard to believe they’re from the same planet, never mind the same parents—especially considering Savannah, queen of green smoothies, is only a year and a half older than Abby herself.
The logical course of action? Meet up at summer camp (obviously) and figure out why Abby’s parents gave Savvy up for adoption. But there are complications: Savvy is a rigid rule-follower and total narc. Leo is the camp’s co-chef, putting Abby’s growing feelings for him on blast. And her parents have a secret that threatens to unravel everything.
But part of life is showing up, leaning in, and learning to fit all your awkward pieces together. Because sometimes, the hardest things can also be the best ones.
I’m fascinated by real-life stories of people discovering hidden family connections through DNA testing companies like 23andme. (My test results were not particularly dramatic — no secret siblings or deep-dark family secrets!)
In You Have a Match, 16-year-old Abby discovers through DNA testing that she has a full sister that she never knew about. Determined to understand how this is possible, Abby and Savvy connect, and decide to attend summer camp together as a way to piece together the puzzle of their pasts… without telling their parents about their big discovery.
Family secrets come to light, tears are shed, and Abby learns a lot about herself, her parents, and the secret history she shares with Savvy. Plus, there’s friend and boyfriend drama, plus social media, worries about the future, and a best friend/boyfriend to sort out too.
I really liked the camp setting (memories…), and thought the main concept was really inventive. The secrets behind Abby and Savvy’s shared past are surprising and moving, although I’m not sure I buy some of the events as they’re described. I loved that the girls were able to get past their surface differences and come together as sisters, filling roles in each others’ lives that they never knew they needed.
I was less into the emphasis on Instagram followers and fame, but I suppose that’s a generational thing. The romance aspects also didn’t really speak to me, but again — not an actual young adult here!
I didn’t really know what to expect from You Have a Match, and I was pleasantly surprised! This is a fast, easy-to-get-lost-in read. Lots of fun, and also hits the emotions.
Title:You Should See Me in a Crown Author: Leah Johnson Published: 2020 Length: 336 pages Rating:
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.
But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.
The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?
This book came to my attention when Reese Witherspoon picked it as her book club’s first YA book. I’m so glad I gave it a chance!
In You Should See Me In a Crown, Liz is an outsider when it comes to her wealthy community’s obsession with prom. Really, she’s never really thought about it in relation to herself, until forced to take desperate measures when her hoped-for scholarship falls through. And nothing could be more desperate than Liz Lighty running for prom queen.
With the support of her best friends, Liz determines to step outside her comfort zone and do what it takes to pursue her dream. Battling cliquey mean girls and the school’s slant toward the straight, white, popular crowd, Liz has to balance being true to herself with doing what it takes to earn the votes needed to become queen.
The book showcases friendship and honesty, falling in love and deciding whether to be out, family support and keeping secrets, wealthy inequality, and so much more. While the race for prom queen is the overarching plotline, You Should See Me in a Crown is an excellent portrait of a young woman in an unexpected situation, figuring out how to achieve her goals without losing herself in the process.
I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Alaska Jackson, and it was light, fun, and sweet. I really enjoyed the story, and think it would make an awesome Netflix movie!
There you have it — two contemporary YA books that gave me a cheerful start to my 2021 reading!
Title: Four Days of You and Me Author: Miranda Kenneally Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire Publication date: May 5, 2020 Length: 352 pages Genre: Young adult fiction Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley Rating:
Rating: 4 out of 5.
A new swoon-worthy romance following a couple’s love story on the same date over four years.
Every May 7, the students at Coffee County High School take a class trip. And every year, Lulu’s relationship with Alex Rouvelis gets a little more complicated. Freshman year, they went from sworn enemies to more than friends after a close encounter in an escape room. It’s been hard for Lulu to quit Alex ever since.
Through breakups, make ups, and dating other people, each year’s class trip brings the pair back together and forces them to confront their undeniable connection. From the science museum to an amusement park, from New York City to London, Lulu learns one thing is for sure: love is the biggest trip of all.
Such a sweet story! It’s been a while since I’ve read any YA, but I’ve always enjoyed Miranda Kenneally’s books, so I knew I had to read her newest.
Lulu and Alex start as rivals freshman year, both running for class president — Lulu on a green platform, and Alex capitalizing on his popularity as a baseball star. When Alex wins, they exist as frenemies for the rest of the school year, until accidentally getting locked into an escape room together on their class trip. As they finally acknowledge their mutual sparks, Lulu and Alex start a relationship that will last throughout their high school years, despite ups and downs and time apart.
As each section of the book focuses on the class trip for that year, we get to see how Alex and Lulu have matured, and how their relationship has matured with them. There are problems along the way, of course. Alex’s devotion to baseball and his commitment to working in his family’s restaurant leaves him unavailable except for late at night, past Lulu’s curfew. They both end up frustrated and unable to see past their own hurt, so a break-up is inevitable.
Still, every year on May 7th, as they set out on another class trip, Alex and Lulu seem to be thrust back into each other’s orbit. They really are great together, and even when trying to make something work with other people, they both realize that what they have is special.
I love how matter-of-fact the author is when it comes to teen relationships. There’s no judgment here, and the characters all enjoy varying degrees of healthy sex lives. Alex and Lulu take their time getting there, but they do enjoy gradually deepening levels of intimacy, and when they finally decide to have sex, it’s with lots of discussion, explicit consent, and pre-purchased condoms.
The supporting cast is quite good too — best friends and cousins and teammates, each with their own lives and quirks. They form a loyal and strong core, and I liked that we get to see Alex and Lulu not just 100% about their relationship, but really engaged with true friendships.
I also appreciated that Lulu and Alex each have their own passions — Lulu as an author/illustrator of graphic novels, Alex with baseball — and that they support each other’s dreams and goals. Neither one would ever suggest that their plans outweigh the other’s. It’s refreshing to see two characters work through their differences without losing sight of how much they care about each other.
Miranda Kenneally writes terrific, strong female characters, and Lulu is no exception. She’s talented and smart, and someone who’d be easy to like in real life. Four Days of You and Me is a quick read, and I really enjoyed this glimpse of high school life and all its drama, humor, and adventure.
Title: When You Were Everything Author: Ashley Woodfolk Publisher: Delacorte Press Publication date: March 10, 2020 Length: 400 pages Genre: Young adult fiction Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley Rating:
Rating: 4 out of 5.
You can’t rewrite the past, but you can always choose to start again.
It’s been twenty-seven days since Cleo and Layla’s friendship imploded.
Nearly a month since Cleo realized they’ll never be besties again.
Now, Cleo wants to erase every memory, good or bad, that tethers her to her ex–best friend. But pretending Layla doesn’t exist isn’t as easy as Cleo hoped, especially after she’s assigned to be Layla’s tutor. Despite budding new friendships with other classmates—and a raging crush on a gorgeous boy named Dom—Cleo’s turbulent past with Layla comes back to haunt them both.
Alternating between time lines of Then and Now, When You Were Everything blends past and present into an emotional story about the beauty of self-forgiveness, the promise of new beginnings, and the courage it takes to remain open to love.
It’s refreshing to read a contemporary YA novel where romance takes a backseat. In When You Were Everything, the focus is on friendship — or more specifically, on the end of friendship.
Few things are more traumatic for teen girls that losing a best friend. In When You Were Everything, we witness the pain and sorrow and rage that occurs when besties forever, Cleo and Layla, fall apart.
It happens the way these things do. Friends since age twelve, the girls start moving in different directions at the start of their sophomore year of high school. Layla wants more than anything to join the school chorus, and while the “Chorus Girls” adopt her right away, they have no interest in including Cleo in their elite circle.
Cleo’s feeling are hurt over and over again as Layla spends more time with her new friends than with Cleo, and small slights turn into bigger and bigger betrayals, until there’s a final and irreparable break.
Cleo is also dealing with her parents’ separation, and her new friendless status is made even worse by a stream of bullying and harassment she endures from the Chorus Girls while Layla stands by and does nothing.
Cleo is smart and driven, but she also makes some poor choices, lashing out in hurtful ways when her own feelings are hurt. And while I felt that Layla was more to blame for the friendship break-up, Cleo isn’t blameless either.
When You Were Everything is hard to read at times, specifically because it’s so relatable. My own high school years are way in the past, but Cleo’s feelings as she’s isolated and tormented ring very true, in a sadly timeless sort of way.
I enjoyed seeing how Cleo opens herself up to new friendships and learns to see what’s in front of her instead of living inside her own head so much. There’s a sweet romance too, but it’s less important than what Cleo learns about herself and about friendship.
The cast of characters is nicely diverse, and I liked the way the story includes the importance of family and the impact of parents’ and grandparents’ support, love, and involvement. Despite the sadness of the end of a friendship, the book ends on a hopeful note.
Title: Only Mostly Devastated Author: Sophie Gonzales Publisher: Wednesday Books Publication date: March 3, 2020 Length: 288 pages Genre: Young adult fiction Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley Rating:
Rating: 4 out of 5.
SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA meets CLUELESS in this boy-meets-boy spin on Grease
Summer love…gone so fast.
Ollie and Will were meant to be a summer fling—casual, fun, and done. But when Ollie’s aunt’s health takes a turn for the worse and his family decides to stay in North Carolina to take care of her, Ollie lets himself hope this fling can grow to something more. Dreams that are crushed when he sees Will at a school party and finds that the sweet and affectionate (and comfortably queer) guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High.
Will is more than a little shocked to see Ollie the evening of that first day of school. While his summer was spent being very much himself, back at school he’s simply known as one of the varsity basketball guys. Now Will is faced with the biggest challenge of his life: follow his heart and risk his friendships, or stay firmly in the closet and lose what he loves most.
Summer loving had me a blast Summer loving happened so fast...Save
Well, you know how it goes.
Two cute teens meet on their summer vacation, fall head over heels, say sad good-byes… and then end up attending the same high school in the fall.
But in Only Mostly Devastated, we’re not talking good girl Sandy and bad boy Danny. Instead, we have two adorable boys, Ollie and Will, who have a magical summer together. They should be thrilled to end up at the same school unexpectedly, right?
The problem is (and of course, there has to be a problem): Ollie is out; Will is not. And while Ollie came out to supportive parents and a chill circle of friends and school acquaintances back in California, Will grew up in more conservative North Carolina, where homophobic jokes are de rigeur for the cool jock crowd and their hangers-on.
When Ollie and his parents relocate to North Carolina to be near his terminally ill aunt and help with her children, he doesn’t really expect to run into Will without some effort. Not to mention that Will appears to have ghosted him right after their final summer good-bye kiss.
So when Ollie tells the group of girls who befriend him on his first day of school about his summer love — and shows them a picture — complications almost immediately crop up. Because of course, Will goes to the same school, and of course, the girls are thrown for a loop by this news that straight hot basketball star Will is maybe not so straight after all.
Ollie is sweet as can be, and it’s so sad and painful to go through all his emotions alongside him. He’s firmly out and will never accept a situation where’s he’s forced back in the closet — but he has to respect Will’s choice, even if it means accepting that Will has to pretend not to know Ollie, and can’t hang out with him too visibly for fear of being teased about turning gay.
The author does a great job of helping us (and Ollie) understand why Will might fear being outed, showing the social environment at school and the not-so-subtle pressure to conform, as well as the scorn reserved for those who don’t fall nicely into socially acceptable gender and relationship roles.
Meanwhile, Ollie forms close friendships with a trio of girls who seem to adore him and take him under their wings. They’re all interesting and varied, not just a generic crowd of high school girls but real people with distinct personalities and conflicts and challenges.
Ollie’s family life is also portrayed sensitively, and it’s quite sad to see Ollie processing his aunt’s decline while also being there for his two little cousins. As if Ollie wasn’t adorable and sweet enough already, he’s also a terrific babysitter and loves his family unconditionally, and it’s heartbreaking to witness his grief when the inevitable finally happens.
The cast of characters in Only Mostly Devastated is nicely diverse without making a big fuss over it, which I really appreciated. The romance at the heart of the story is so well done, and even though it’s almost too sad at times to see how hurt Ollie is, by the end, it feels like a realistic journey that the boys go through to get to where they end up. (Being vague here, so as not to spoil too much…)
If you enjoy sweet, sensitive young adult romances with well-earned happy endings, definitely check out Only Mostly Devastated!Save
Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magic. She is perfectly happy with her life—she has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It’s a great life and she doesn’t wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha.
But when Ivy is hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach.
Magic For Liars may be set at a school of magic, but we’re on notice from the very first page that this is not THAT kind of school:
Now they were all downstairs at the welcome-back dinner, an all-staff-all-students meal that marked the end of the first week of classes. They’d joke there about house-elves and pumpkin juice — or at least the freshmen would. By the time they were sophomores, that vein of humor was worn beyond use.
After a bloody murder at Osthorne Academy for Young Mages (located in the vicinity of Sunol, California — less than an hour’s drive from San Francisco or Oakland), private investigator Ivy Gamble is called in to help solve the case. Magical authorities have deemed it an accidental death due to a spell gone bad, but the school’s headmaster thinks there’s more to be discovered… and since Ivy is the non-magical twin sister of a professor at the school, she seems to be the right choice to lead the investigation.
The assignment at Osthorne is fraught with tension and high emotional stakes for Ivy. She and sister Tabitha have been estranged for years, really since Tabitha was selected to go to an elite magic school when they were teens. Their paths diverged sharply from that point onward, and the two have never managed to reconnect, especially in the aftermath of their mother’s death while Tabitha was away at school.
Now arriving at Osthorne, Ivy sets out to solve the murder while also trying to understand who Tabitha is now, and who she herself might have been if she’d had magic too. Ivy’s journey is painful to witness, as she drinks herself through her tumultuous feelings every night and lets herself become consumed by the mysterious death and the suspicious undercurrents at the school
I love Sarah Gailey’s writing — I loved it in the American Hippo books, and she’s totally on point here as well, conveying the otherworldliness of the magical world while rooting it in a grim and grimy reality that has more than a shade of noir to it. What magical school doesn’t have a library with weird and dangerous sections? Here at Osthorne, Ivy hears:
… the books murmuring to each other like a scandalized congregation of origami Presbyterians.
Isn’t that delicious?
Some other choice bits:
Across the bay, San Francisco bled money like an unzipped artery.
The drive through the Sunol hills was as beautiful as the novocaine that comes before the drill.
Certain magic school tropes makes appearances too — there’s a Prophecy and a Chosen One, for starters, as well as the more mundane clique of popular girls who flutter around the central Mean Girl and all sorts of relationship drama, both appropriate and not.
The plot zooms along quickly, and sometimes reality can be a slippery thing. Ivy’s investigations are often clouded by the magical elements around her, but even so, she applies her skills and street smarts to get to the shocking truth. The resolution is pitch-perfect, and even though I guessed at the outcome ahead of time, that did not detract at all from the impact and the shock when the answers are finally revealed.
Magic For Liars is, plain and simple, a terrific read. Don’t miss it!
Title: Magic For Liars
Author: Sarah Gailey
Publication date: June 4, 2019
Length: 336 pages
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley