It's inevitable: As soon as I'm too busy to read for pleasure, all I want to do is dig into a new novel. So it somehow seems fitting that during this month of school starting and nose-to-the grindstone necessity, we're having a glut of alluring young adult releases.
The three books that caught my fancy this month look wildly different on the surface. Traci Chee's The Reader follows multiple characters through a fantasy world where pirates sail the waves and a secret society seeks to hoard the written word. Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova draws inspiration from Latin American cultures to offer up modern teen witches on a journey through the spirit realm, and Sarah Glenn Marsh's novel Fear the Drowning Deep paints a portrait of a little fishing village in 1913, where people are disappearing and creatures out of Manx folklore may be to blame. They have different cultural influences and different types of narrative – so imagine my surprise when I began to feel like these three books were circling in the same orbit. First and foremost, all three focus on girls who must come to terms with magic. The Reader gives us Sefia, a girl on the run from her past with a forbidden book in her pack and a strange ability to divine the stories of the people that she meets. In Labyrinth Lost, we meet Alex, the world's most reluctant bruja, who is so desperate to be rid of her powers that she accidentally curses her entire family. And then there's Bridey, a girl who hates the sea and seems to be the only one noticing that her village is being menaced by monsters. All of these girls are uncomfortable in their skins, haunted by having failed to protect the people they loved, and so deeply in denial that I wish they could form some kind of teenage magic victim support group. And while they all have very different journeys to make, self — acceptance is a key destination for all three.
And so is falling for boys who have even more scars than they do — both literally and metaphorically. A collar of scar tissue and memory loss, creeping tattoos and a devil-may-care attitude, sea monster bites and (even more) memory loss: These boys are nothing but sweet, sweet trouble. It's hard not to fall a little bit in love, but I would not be quite so forgiving of some of the dark pasts lurking just beneath the surface. Maybe forgiving others will help our girls be kinder to themselves – or maybe it will make them step closer to the darkness.
Finally, all three books revel in creating strong ties between the girls and their female family members and friends. Sefia stops running and takes control of her destiny when her aunt Nin is kidnapped. Above all, she is motived by her desire to save the woman who protected her and taught her how to survive when she lost her parents. Alex must claim her magic in order to rescue her sisters and her mother (along with the rest of her relations, living and dead) from the spirit world, and finds strength in her blossoming relationship with her best friend, Rishi. Bridey puts aside her terror of the sea in order to protect her sisters and her best friend from the creatures that are threatening the village. All of these women have complex, interesting relationships that give depth to their fantastic worlds. I actually wish that all three books had focused even more on these elements — I would have happily spared a little screen time with Byronic boys in exchange!
Regardless, those in search of magical adventure to liven up that back — to — school reading list will find these to be three very enjoyable books that sing in harmony when read in close succession.
Caitlyn Paxson is a writer and performer. She is an editor at Goblin Fruit, and can be found discussing folklore and pop culture on the Fakelore Podcast. Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
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