I usually try to be at least somewhat eloquent and, at the very least, coherent in my book reviews, but this book just made me want to yell OH MY GOD EVERYONE READ THIS NOW.
Of course, I totally understand that you may want to know a bit more than that, so don’t worry. I have a bit more than that. Actually, I have a lot more than that.
So Spellbook of the Lost and Found is a YA magical realism novel written by Moira Fowley-Doyle. It’s her second novel, with her debut being The Accident Season, but Spellbook is the first of her novels that I’ve read. I actually discovered this book on Goodreads when I was browsing August new releases (and, if we’re being totally candid here, I was actually browsing the August new releases because I was trying to guess what book was going to be in the August OwlCrate. I never was able to guess, but for those of you wondering, it ended up being The Hearts We Sold, which I also fell in love with and have a review of here. August was a good month for YA, as Jessica Taylor’s A Map for Wrecked Girls also came out that month).
Spellbook of the Lost and Found is about a group of teenagers in a small town in Ireland who wake up the day after a bonfire party to a strange epidemic of sorts—an epidemic of lost things. According to some of the girls at school, “everybody lost something” on that night. Makeup bags, hair pins, shoes, jackets…what at first seems like a chance coincidence soon escalates into a full blown mystery as they realize just how many things have gone missing.
The book starts out following Olive and Rose, best friends who can’t find each other the morning after the party, then interweaves the story of Laurel, Ash, and Holly through Laurel’s missing diary pages that seem to be showing up out of nowhere—on the road while Rose is walking by, in Olive’s bike basket, blowing by on the wind. Yet another strand is added to the braid when Olive and Rose meet Ivy and twins Hazel and Rowan, who are camping out in a boarded up house in an abandoned housing development and are shrouded in their own layers of mystery.
Ultimately, the story ends up alternating between three points of view: Olive’s, Hazel’s, and Laurel’s (in the form of her diary entries), but ensconces the stories of all the characters involved with the spellbook. One day, the battered, old spellbook seems to just show up in the lives of the characters, and it seems like the answer to all their problems. It contains a spell to get back their lost things, and the spell seems eerily suited to them, with ingredients like rose thorns and olive oil. But of course, the teens have no idea what they’re really tangling with and what a lasting effect the spell could have.
The description of this book definitely makes it seem like a bit of a lofty premise, perhaps because it is. There’s a lot going on, many layers to peel back and get through, and a myriad of characters to manage. In a lesser author’s hands, this particular work of art could have turned muddy FAST. But Fowley-Doyle handled this novel masterfully. There were so many things to like about this book, beginning with the fact that it was written just beautifully. The prose itself in this novel is just. So. Pretty. It was like love at first sight with the words on the page.
“Two chipped glasses still sit there, the last drops of whiskey pooled in the bottoms, the ghosts of our lips around the rims.”
“But even when Ivy’s tired and her hair’s a mess, she’s the brightest point in the room. She’s all floaty dresses and big boots and eyes that match her bright blue hair and can probably see right through you. She glows so strongly that everything around her looks prettier just ‘cause she’s there.”
The descriptions, the interactions, and the thoughts of the characters are all pretty, ethereal, and they just draw the reader right in, effectively buoying the overall magical feel of the story itself.
And since we are on the topic of magic, it seems like a good time to acknowledge that magical realism is not the easiest genre to tackle, but Moira Fowley-Doyle does an incredible job of walking the line between the real contemporary world and the mystical/magical realm of things, without wandering too far in any one direction or overstepping that line at any point. She manages to create a world that is real and feels like your regular life, but where mysterious, magical things happen in such a subtle and understated way that I barely even questioned it. Her writing made me feel like I could just randomly discover a tattered, overstuffed spellbook that really works and use it to call back the things I’ve lost. She manages to imbue the book with just enough magic to make it enjoyable without crossing the line into making it ridiculous, which I think is really admirable. It also leaves it open-ended enough that you can kind of choose to believe what you want. And let’s face it, it’s a lot more fun to believe in magic.
I also loved the characters in this book and the way that they were written. Every character is interesting in their own unique ways and they are all going through their own struggles and experiences in life—Rose is struggling with something traumatic that happened at the bonfire party while Hazel and Rowan have issues with their abusive addict parents. Olive struggles to reconnect with Rose while Laurel, Ash, and Holly’s friendship is also put through the ringer. Throughout it all, they each learn more about life and about who they are.
“So maybe we’re both monsters. But they were worse monsters than us.”
“And that makes it okay?”
Everyone has their own things going on, but they still manage to interconnect. Even though every character is different and unique, I felt that they all fit really cohesively together and also functioned well as a unit.
“If there had to be a collective term for us, it would be a forest. A forest of teenage girls.”
The characters were, in large part, what made the book so relatable. They were beautiful and magical, sure, but they were real and raw and seemed so much like people we would really know, rather than far-fetched characters that the reader will have nothing in common with. You may not have ever found a ratty spellbook right when you needed it most (or maybe you have, I don’t know your life), but you might be able to relate to a girl trying to get along with her sister, or teenagers struggling with having less-than-great parents, or falling in love too often and too quickly. Their struggles felt very real and despite the spells and otherworldly aspects, they grounded the story firmly in this realm, adding to that perfect balance mentioned earlier. Refreshingly, the characters were also very diverse—with several bisexual characters and women loving women—and beautiful and unique in ways that some people might not consider “perfect”. It was nice to see characters who weren’t all the flawless, mysteriously good at everything, flat-tummied, skinny, and beautiful caricatures we see so often in fiction. Hazel is big boned and describes herself as “a meal of a girl, and you wouldn’t go hungry.” Olive struggles a little with her body image, worrying about the size of her stomach and the way she looks even in intimate moments. Olive also has less-than-perfect hearing and uses hearing aids to assist her. Rowan and Hazel are covered in freckles from head to toe. These characters are real and raw—they are the people we know, the people around us. They are us. And that makes it so much easier to really get invested in the story.
One other thing I just wanted to touch on is Fowley-Doyle’s careful handling of a subject like sexual assault. Though there are no graphic scenes in this novel, Rose does deal with what happened to her at the bonfire party in recollection—or lack thereof—and I felt that the author was actually very sensitive to potential real-life victims, and handled it in a very graceful and respectful way, with some passages actually being quite empowering, and full of the words that victims need to hear:
“He’s the one who attacked you. He’s the one who made you think you’d lost everything. He did that. Not you.”
I genuinely applaud Fowley-Doyle for this and the way she and her characters spoke about it.
Speaking of balance, I always like to point out things I don’t like as well as things I do (or vice versa), just to keep it fair, but there was very little I disliked about this book. The only thing I think bears mentioning is that every main character in the book is named after a tree or a plant, and that’s really cute and I liked it a lot. But the only problem with that is that every character is named after a tree or plant, so you have to get to know your characters fast in order to make sure you are differentiating them correctly. It can get a little confusing if you aren’t paying enough attention or if you’re just reading while super sleepy, and you may have to go back and check who’s who if you don’t watch closely. Other than that, there really isn’t much I can say about this book that isn’t positive and just talking about how totally in love with it I am.
All in all, I just absolutely loved this book. Loved it. So much. It’s a definitely five star read and I am so glad, because the last two books I read were total duds for me, and I really didn’t want to go for a three-peat of disappointments.
I would definitely recommend this book, probably to anyone and everyone, but especially if you love beautiful, ethereal writing, magical realism, or just anything to do with magic.
It’s great for people who love romance, people who love family stories, people who love friendship stories—I really think there’s something here for everyone. Of course, if you hate magical realism or have some sort of vendetta against it, or you’re one of those people who just insists on a reasonable explanation for everything and can’t accept that the Upside Down, then fine, maybe it’s not a good fit for you. But for me, it was an amazing fit, and is definitely one of my new favorites, and easily one of the best books I read in 2017!
Have you read Spellbook of the Lost and Found? What did you think? Are you a fan of magic or magical realism? Let me know in the comments! You know I’d love to talk. <3