Hocus Pocus meets Practical Magic.
THIS COVERS LOOKS SUPER SHINY AND PRETTY but I didn’t even know because I borrowed an ebook from my library!
CONSENT IS AN ICKY ISSUE
So this is kind of a novel about consent without it ever really being addressed.
There are so many consent issues to think about: consent about whether the sisters really did ‘bewitch’ men against their will, on the consent of boys lured to their deaths, on the consent of the sisters inhabiting innocent teen girls to wreak their revenge and whether the sisters have been invited by sheer teenage stupidity or bravado or peer pressure (and even if they have, they can’t consent to individual acts the sisters choose to commit), and how the sisters use the innocent girls’ bodies while they’re possessing them. But this is all kind of glossed over because it’s revenge.
YA… BUT MAYBE IN DISGUISE?
I feel like this novel didn’t really have to be a Young Adult novel. It could have been an adult one, and may even make more sense as an adult novel.
- Penny had no parental guidance and was basically emancipated, caring for herself because her mother was unable to and her dad wasn’t around.
- It was set in the summer holidays so there was no school influence (although there was a lot of very cold ocean and rain and not much mention of hot weather – does it even get hot in Oregon? idk). Since it was a small town the relationships between the youth population could have easily been because of that and not that she’d gone to school with them.
- She didn’t particularly want to party.
- Everyone casually drank underage, which I guess isn’t as big a deal in the US as I thought it was.
- Penny took it upon herself to hire help for the island.
- She didn’t even have a cell phone, with the argument that it had no signal on her island.
- She didn’t have any modern technology that teens are obsessed with. She didn’t have email or social media – no one did, it seemed. Some of the other characters had cell phones, but they might as well have never existed.
- There wasn’t any teenage angst. I like to read YA because the protagonists haven’t found their feet in the world yet, don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to love and relationships and sex, but Penny was remarkably self-assured and mature without being overconfident or jaded.
Maybe it was an attempt to make this book seem more timeless, like it was set in the 80s or 90s when technology wasn’t so deeply engrained in everyday life, something that The Scorpio Races, a strikingly similar book, pulled off with its earlier time setting. But the result made Penny seem like she was a middle-aged adult in a young person’s body, much the same way Bella Swan seemed strikingly middle-aged for a teenager. Maybe it’s a Pacific North West thing, I don’t know. But this book could have been rewritten as a book for adults with very little effort, or maybe it originally was and was easily switched to YA to find a more lucrative market.
SIMILAR TO THE SCORPIO RACES?
I didn’t find this particularly atmospheric or spooky, maybe because I think it pales in comparison to both Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic, which is has been compared to. I also think it pales in comparison to The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater which, like I mentioned earlier, it bears striking similarities to: a small town set in a stormy place has a supernatural ‘season’ that involves the ocean and locals doing daring things that might get them killed, and which attracts tourists to the town. Like Puck, Penny is also a local who is an outsider. I also didn’t think it was particularly romantic, mostly because I really have no idea what either person in this supposed romance felt. It was really lukewarm and uninspiring. It also didn’t make any sense that at the end of the novel, Penny and her love interest continued their relationship as if nothing had happened.
Penny is not the one falling in love/being fallen in love with, and that’s why it’s icky consent and no feels romance and generally kind of a plot hole.
BUT I DID LIKE IT!
What I thought was really great was the use of first and third person point of view, and past and present tense. There was no hard and fast rule: it wasn’t that everything set 200 years ago was in third person and everything set in the modern world was first person. There was a fluidity there that I think could have been a risk in lesser hands, but Ernshaw had good instincts and it all flowed really well.
It was fun and easy to read and guess the twists before they happened. The narrative was woven together very nicely, utilising a variety of points of view and tenses, and using Chekov’s Gun surprisingly well. One thing that kept me going was that I couldn’t see how this could possibly be resolved.
While I wasn’t an enamoured of this book as I wanted to be, I think it was a better debut than most contemporary YA paranormal writers. If Ernshaw’s writing improves with time and experience I expect her next novel to be even better, and I look forward to reading it. I also think this would make a really good TV miniseries and I hope it’s fully developed.