Review posted March 10, 2022
Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan), 2021. 311 pages.
Review written January 15, 2022, from a library book.
2022 Cybils Finalist, Young Adult Speculative Fiction
Wow. This book is transcendent and magical. But also horribly tough.
It begins with a warning. I’ll include it as well:
This book contains discussions of sexual assault and PTSD. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please know that there’s help, and there’s hope.
If you don’t know where to start, start with RAINN: rain.org/resources or (800)656-4673.
So, yes, this book involves sexual assault. As the book opens, Ciela is taking a boy to the hospital. She doesn’t know his name or even where he’s from. She tells the nurse, “They drugged him. We were at a party.” And then she gets out of there before the police show up. She knows he’ll have to wake up alone, knowing only that something bad happened to him. But she can’t stay.
And on the way back to her car, she sees a rose turn to mirrored glass. As she reaches for it, it shatters, and a shard gets into her eye. And as the days go by, she can feel its hard cold glass going into her heart.
And something bad happened to Ciela, too. Something so bad, she’s not yet ready to even tell herself exactly what happened. And she feels responsible for what happened to the boy, who turns out to be a new kid at her private school, on scholarship like she is.
Ciela works at her families pastelería. She has always been able to tell what pan dulce a customer wants or needs before they ask, inheriting that magic from her great-grandmother. But since the party, that ability is gone. And she keeps seeing flowers turn into mirrors. She wants to save anyone else from having one of those sharp pieces get into their heart.
This isn’t a retelling of The Snow Queen, but it has echoes of the Hans Christian Anderson story. The book is set in San Juan Capistrano, and the swallows, too, have a role in the story.
I usually have trouble with magical realism – I like my magic logical and orderly. But Anna-Marie McLemore has a deft hand, and I discovered that symbolism is the perfect way to deal with trauma and its aftermath. The magic in this book is powerful and helps Ciela reclaim her own body and find her voice and her gifts again.
Yes, this book deals with hard things and frightful events. But there’s healing and compassion here. The healing isn’t instant, and the trauma leaves marks, but it’s all helped along by magic, transforming about a book about something awful into one of the loveliest books I’ve read in a long time.