When We Were Magic

I am trying to use more of my weekends to catch up on reviewing. I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to update people who are curious about what I thought of a book other than making them aware that I usually post things to my personal blog. In this case, I bought a digital copy so I can review it on amazon but I’m never sure what to do with books where I only have a physical copy, purchased for as cheap as possible on ebay. I’m probably going to have to examine how I purchase books when it’s someone I know personally.

But I feel less obligated when it’s someone I don’t, whose book I have now bought twice because I know horror books written by women don’t do as well, even if the cover is amazing. I want to make sure I’m not somehow hurting the author by being, well, me. I’m the type of person who will start making snarky comments about Stephen King or Ray Bradbury after two straight years of watching people fall over themselves to like racist books that have been promoted by Grady Hendrix, a man I know to be a transphobe, who has gotten tons of mileage writing as marginalized (white but still female) characters because he’s figured it out: no one wants to read a woman writing as a woman (with the very rare exception and basically, they want to pat themselves on the back for reading that one author – usually Shirley Jackson, and hold it up as proof that they are not sexist) but people will read female characters if they are written by a male horror author.

But I know strong opinions will probably only hurt my cause and people will be even less likely to pick up great books if I throw tantrums. I’ve seen this over and over again on social media. It’s cool girls only. The narrative is so often that: ‘I’m cool with women and I don’t care who they sleep with but if I get yelled at for every little comment …’

I had a pretty emotional reaction to reading this book but almost wish it hadn’t been written for teenagers, as maybe the book’s biggest problem might have been avoided if the kids have been slightly older. I really do understand not being able to ask if someone likes you, when it’s already hard to ask. That’s probably why I only had one relationship with a woman during which, I asked her nothing. I had to center all my actions and reactions in relation to her around assumptions and afterwards, I felt well, men will tell me what they want, at least, despite that teenagers often don’t tell each other what they want and maybe later on, there would have been fewer misunderstandings. But I don’t like failure. I don’t like the emotional fallout. I tend to go with what’s easier. So, that was the only relationship I was willing to risk, probably because I was so young and my pride didn’t bother me so much back then.

So, maybe it’s just really painful watching people make such dumb and (now, at least) obvious mistakes, especially (and this is spoilers though the jacket summary is pretty upfront about the main drama the narrative is dealing with) when someone dies as a result. Though the characters spend a lot of time crying over how they killed a person, a person with feelings and loves and hopes and dreams, it just doesn’t feel real. The murder is the driver of the book, it’s what makes the stakes high enough for you to care so it can’t just be the type of ‘oops’ many narratives about women with powers they don’t understand are centered around.

Now, there are narratives where the lives around those with powers are less consequential and it’s just accepted but you can tell the author wants to take moral responsibility for her actions, literary or otherwise. Yet, I kept getting lost in really, really loving the characters (which, they didn’t kill anyone so it’s fine) and then reminding myself ‘well the main character murdered someone in an attempt to make her crush jealous’ and even understanding how hard it is to not be able to just come out and say something to someone, the motive can’t seem otherwise than petty.

I’m not sure what the solution is, as the author clearly doesn’t want to make the high stakes about women being threatened by men. I have a sort of shakier position on that personally but I have heard the arguments for why it’s not okay even for women to move the plot through violence against women by men and understand where those arguments are coming from. The problem for me is, I don’t believe in casually moving the plot through violence (like a female character’s backstory always being sexual assault) but let’s be real here. Men are still going to write those narratives and get a pass for it. Ignoring completely how often women who are different are targeted, especially when young and vulnerable just means men control the narrative about violence used against us.

Then again, maybe that I can’t get past a character accidentally murdering someone for dumb teenage reasons, says a lot about a genre where it’s just accepted violence against women gets a pass but violence committed by women is somehow petty or wrong. I just wish the misunderstanding had been used a bit more effectively to demonstrate how much more difficult queer romance can be for teens. Instead, there were times it came off as just an oops that ended up with someone dead as it was resolved fairly easily. Then again, maybe what that really says is queer romance needs to be normalized within narratives which are not marketed necessarily as such or serious consequences are a given. Yet, the genuine connections between the characters are lovely and it’s nice to read something a bit more feminist than the usual ‘not like most girls’ narratives I grew up on.

Plus, it does have a romance which is not overly tortured or tragic and I feel that’s really important in queer ya. I mean, it’s based on a murder but at least it’s not unrequited – I saw a lot of ‘in love with my straight best friend’ queer narratives growing up, too. I don’t know. I’m torn. I’ve personally had editors suggest I remove parts of the plot without which, there would be no plot and hate to do that to a book I genuinely loved but … I even wish they had gone with his being resurrected even though no consequences magic has its own set of problems. I just don’t think there’s a solution to this one and maybe that’s good because what situation in life has no moral ambiguity?

Anyway. I would yell at people to read this magical book which made me have feels but that will probably make them want to read it even less, so I will try and contain myself. I mean, I will repost it next year under another theme and hope for platform growth. I did that recently with Fledgling and it got five whole more likes than last time! So, see? Progress.

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