A stranger comes to a town. A young woman, her past a mystery, her present a blank slate waiting to be filled. She doesn’t have any friends, she has a strained relationship with her mother and an absentee father, but she’s quick to pick up on the most popular, most elusive trio at her high school—the Graces. Thalia, Fenrin, and Summer Grace are siblings rumoured to be witches in Laure Eve’s YA urban fantasy The Graces, set in a small coastal town that could be anyplace, anywhere and almost anytime.
Our narrator is the strange new girl, who wants very much to befriend the Graces, especially Summer, and is also in love with Fenrin. She catches on to the rumours about the Graces fast—not just about those that suggest they have magical abilities that help them remain rich and powerful as a family, but also to the information that the Graces aren’t very good at keeping friends.
‘The Graces had friends, but then they didn’t. Once in a while, they would descend on someone they’d never hung out with before, making them theirs for a time, but a time was usually all it was. They changed friends like some people changed hairstyles, as if perpetually waiting for someone better to come along.’ But that doesn’t stop her—she’s different, she’s special and she’s certain of it.
Our narrator doesn’t even have a name—or rather, she doesn’t tell us, until she names herself until a few chapters in, when she comes up with ‘River’, something that she thinks will fit in with the Grace siblings and their bohemian goth ways, and adopts it as her given name. River is no one, but she is also everyone—an empty space waiting to be filled, a nameless, faceless young girl who could be any one at all. She is soon defined by others, especially the glamorous, hard to impress Graces, who adopt her into their little circle. She plays along with Summer, who perhaps befriends her because she too projects what she needs on to River, forming River in her image, even quite literally one night with a make over. Via Summer, River is soon absorbed into the Grace family, even being invited to Fenrin and Thalia’s annual birthday party, which is unheard of for any of the town’s other citizens or the other students at their school. But things start to go wrong, because River, it seems, wants even more than she’s managed to wriggle her way into. Who she is and what she wants are eventually revealed in a dark, twisty third act.
An unreliable narrator can be risky. An unreliable narrator who isn’t especially likeable or easy to connect with is a bigger risk still. And River is just that—not only does she not tell us who she is, or much about her past, she also confuses us with her erratic behaviour. She’s shy, she’s reticent, but at times she’s also forthright and strong. She doesn’t seem to like anyone other than the Graces, who can do no wrong in her mind. Her obsession with them, with wanting to be part of their tight knit little unit is strange and uncomfortable, which is what makes the denouement of the book really work—River’s desires run deep, and both the Graces and Eve’s readers do not know just how far she will go to get what she wants.
The Graces is highly readable, something that a writer deserves praise for, especially when dealing with coming of age stories and the over-wrought, emotional lives of teenagers. The witchcraft angle is deftly dealt with, without too much detail or explanation being provided and so without a risk of cheesiness. The comparisons to the film The Craft are valid—The Graces too, is an examination of story about friendship between young women, magic, witchcraft, power, and everything a young girl would do to belong in exactly the way she wanted. It’s a creepy little story, told deceptively easily, one that will leave many young readers wanting to go back to the start, or wanting another novel to soon follow.
The Graces is available now from Amulet Books.
Mahvesh loves dystopian fiction & appropriately lives in Karachi, Pakistan. She writes about stories & interviews writers the Tor.com podcast Midnight in Karachi when not wasting much too much time on Twitter.