The Scapegracers

  • By Hannah Abigail Clarke
  • Erewhon Books
  • 400 pp.

This smart, feminist Halloween tale would make a great read any time of year.

The “township of Sycamore Gorge doesn’t fuck around where Halloween is concerned,” which is why October is the one time of year when Eloise “Sideways” Pike earns a modicum of respect and attention from classmates who would otherwise ignore her as the resident lesbian witch whose dads run the local antique shop.

After years of “skulking near the bottom, lurking behind the bleachers, doing magic tricks for bottles of Coke,” Sideways is suddenly and irrevocably catapulted to the top of the West High social pyramid when Jing Gao, Lila Yates, and Daisy Brink pay her $40 to add some real magic to the start of “scare-party season.”

Sideways is almost as surprised as Jing and Yates and Daisy when the magic works:

“Even following my spell book by the letter, the most I could do was burn paper, unbreak dishes, make scrapes and cuts scab faster. What the four of us could do was something else. I felt seasick and disgustingly in love with it, with them.”

Party magic soon leads to dead deer in a drained pool; an unknown party guest nearly assaulting Yates; the appearance of devils; and trouble as the girls start to learn more about the magic they all share and what it means for their fledgling friendship. Possible romance is also in the air as stranger Madeline is recruited as a fifth for their coven, although the course of love, much like magic, does not run smooth for Sideways.

Sideways’ first-person narration is descriptively lyrical, observing the pale “bruise-lavender blue” air even as she remains extremely grounded when it comes to her own loneliness and lack of social skills. She sees herself better suited to “skulking under bridges” than befriending the most popular clique in school, let alone flirting with Madeline.

Throughout The Scapegracers, author Hannah Abigail Clarke cleverly dismantles classic popular-girl tropes as Sideways and readers learn more about the triumvirate that quickly adopts Sideways into its ranks with surprising loyalty and affection. Sideways, Daisy, and Madeline are described as white, Yates is Black, and Jing is Asian (presumably Chinese). The characters are also diverse in terms of sexuality, with lesbian Sideways and bisexual Jing, among others.

Clarke’s debut is the start of a trilogy filled with magic, lilting prose, snappy dialogue, and witches embracing their own power. Feminist themes and strong character bonds make this book an ideal companion to Kim Liggett’s The Grace Year, Hannah Capin’s Foul Is Fair, and Leslye Walton’s The Price Guide to the Occult. The Scapegracers is an excellent addition to the recent crop of novels highlighting sisterhood (especially unlikely ones) fueled by both feminist rage and solidarity.

Emma Carbone is a librarian and reviewer. She has been blogging about books since 2007.

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