After being seriously blown away by Tina Connolly's alternate history as depicted in her Ironskin trilogy, I was a bit surprised to see this lighthearted-looking book in my mailbox. Stripey tights and a magic book? Huh. I shouldn't have been surprised that the author used lighter fare to still explore issues of self-discovery and choice. I picked the novel up during lunch, and finished it in just under a couple of hours. The protagonist in this novel is fifteen, which makes this a perfect novel for older junior high readers. Those who loved Justine Larbalestier's HOW TO DITCH YOUR FAIRY and enjoyed the SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES but who aren't quite yet old enough for Terry Pratchett's WINTERSMITH (though the previous Aching novels aren't quite as gritty) or Rachel Hawkins' HEX HALL will get a kick out of the lighter fare in this novel.
Summary: Camellia is pissed. The Witch is at it again, with another impossibly long list of stupid chores to do - and with a new and completely deranged plan to rule the city. I mean, seriously: they have a mayor, they don't need the Witch. But, if your name is as witchy as "Saramine Scarambouche, apparently magically-related chores are what you demand. Sadly, if your name is Cam - or your initials are CASH, which is an awful, terrible "joke" The Witch played on Camellia's real parents when she stole Camellia from them -- you're stuck mucking out dragon cages, walking and feeding werewolf pups, sourcing goats blood and pig's ears, and trying desperately to stop the witch from wreaking the seriously high-level havoc that's going to end with someone's soul being eaten and a phoenix exploding at the Halloween Dance. Camellia is definitively NOT a witch - Not. Even. Close. But, when the stakes get high enough, she's willing to crack a spell book. Because sometimes even ordinary mortal girls have to fight fire with fire.
Peaks: In two words: normalized inclusivity. Even among the seriously wicked, the world isn't all one culture, ethnicity or background, which is lovely and right.
Power struggles between adults and teens aren't written about creatively often enough in YA lit, especially power dynamics among females. Cam's detailed observations of people - her best friend, the girl she loathes, the high school choir teacher, herself and - and her "aunt," all provide a lot of amusement and food for thought. There are truths that are clear in the novel which don't come across as lessons; primarily that true friends always have your back, no matter how entirely bizarre things get; real affection is true to itself; and you can choose to be yourself, no matter who - or what - your parents are. Choice and identity are key in this novel, though with a somewhat frothy and fast-paced plot, readers will be amused and not necessarily realize they're taking in that message with everything else. They'll just rejoice that Cam comes to her own conclusions in the end.
Valleys: Though marketed as YA, this novel will appeal to 7th grade readers - so it might be disappointing to older readers. Some readers may find the "work" portion of the novel slows the pacing, while others may not notice it -- once I was interested in the characters, it was easy to keep going.
Conclusion: A complete departure from her earlier work, this novel may surprise Connolly fans, but it's a nice introduction to her for younger readers who will hopefully find her other books later. It's light and charming, and there's a pet dragon and a boy band. Yes. A boy band AND a dragon. You know you need to read it now.
Know any magic fans who live in Oregon? If you're in the Beaverton area, you can attend the book-launch for this very fun book at the Cedar Hill Crossing Powell's bookstore on May 5th. Wear your stripey socks and -- seriously, Tina Connolly is going to teach a spell... Be there, or be a solar panel salesperson, which has to be the worst punishment, ever.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of Tor Teen publicity assistant Desirae Friesen. After 5th May, you can find SERIOUSLY WICKED by Tina Connolly at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!