Genre: Young Adult Magical Realism Contemporary
Year Release: 2021
Source: Physical copy
Content warnings: Graphic depiction and discussion of sexual assault, slurs, PTSD
The book opens with Ciela, having just been assaulted, bringing a boy, who had also been assaulted at the same party, to the hospital, and she leaves them to the nurse’s care without ever finding out his name. Summer ends, and he is the new transfer student, whose name is Lock. What unfolds is a heavy, heavy book about healing, survival, and navigating the truth of what happened that night, while magic unfolds and folds apart around them. Trees vanish and mirrors take the place of the natural world.
The imagery in this book is absolutely the beautiful, the writing, atmospheric and evocative. But what really carries the story is the tenderness between Lock and Ciela as they grow closer, deal with the students who assaulted them, and learn the causes behind the magic unraveling and reforming.
It reminded me a lot of Liz Lawson’s The Lucky Ones in that the path to survival and healing isn’t neat, isn’t linear, and yet, the book ends on an uncertain, but hopeful note.
Both leads are fantastic. Ciela is known as La Bruja de los Pasteles, and she can divine exactly the pastry a customer needs for their exact mood. But the magic vanishes after the assault, as Ciela processes what happened that night. Lock is a new kid in school who crochets to keep his hands busy and has a bit of a green thumb. There are so many layers to both characters, especially as Ciela fights to be more than that night. It is so beautifully balanced against the quiet, forward momentum of the story as both characters find the strength to move forward.
One of the things that stood out to me was how expertly McLemore captured the experience of being a scholarship kid at a private school. The pamphlet folding after school was super relatable to me. In addition, the small details of specifically the class differences and related treatment hit home for me.
As the title and back cover copy suggest, there are a lot of mirrors, and I love how McLemore uses them to great literary and emotional impact. Especially in the context of Ciela finding support in her best friend and family and as the she and the reader learn the truth of that night. The reactions, well, mirror each other, and it is so brilliantly done. The way the mirror shards evolve throughout the story line up with the emotional journey we go on with Ciela and Lock.
Each chapter had me on the verge of tears, but it is such a gorgeous representation and exploration of an awful, difficult topic.