“That night, everybody lost something,” Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s Spellbook of the Lost and Found begins. “Not everybody noticed.” The lost things are small or large, tangible or less so, valuable or personal or some combination of the above. They slipped away during a bonfire party, the kind that goes on probably too long and ends when you fall asleep in a field in the wee hours of the morning.
And somehow, Fowley-Doyle’s sentences feel like those nights—like the lull at the end of a party when questionable choices are so easy to make. Olive wakes up the next day missing a shoe and her best friend, Rose. She and Rose went to the party to get drunk and cry, which seems like a perfectly valid reason to go to a party. But three other girls—Holly, Laurel, and Ash—went because their diaries were missing.
It’s what they found that sets Spellbook in motion.
This is Fowley-Doyle’s second young adult novel, following The Accident Season, a quietly haunting tale about family secrets and the stories we tell to explain things to ourselves. Spellbook treads some of the same ground—chosen families, intense friendships, small Irish towns—but is a defter, more structured story. In both, Fowley-Doyle excels at capturing the feeling of a pivot point—it might be a night, an hour, a span of days, a season—in her characters’ lives when everything pauses like a held breath before spinning out in ways they maybe wanted, and maybe didn’t expect.
For the young women in Spellbook, the party begins some things and ends others. Laurel and her trio are the first to find the small red spellbook, which gives them a bit of magic to cast to find lost things—a spell that makes their missing diary pages appear in the forest around them. But when Hazel, who squats in an abandoned house with her brother Rowan and their friend Ivy, finds the book and shows it to Olive, each of them wants back something bigger than diary pages.
If that seems like a lot of tree names, don’t worry; Spellbook is told in three voices (Hazel, Olive, and Laurel), and Fowley-Doyle uses the details of each girl’s life to keep the characters and narratives clearly delineated. Relationships tangle and twist, and siblings get in the way, but there’s a gulf of difference between Olive’s poetry-quoting father and the empty house where Hazel and Rowan let dishes pile in the sink. Each friendship has its own tone: the way Holly and Ash and Laurel interact with each other and with Jude, the boy they visit in the forest, is something much more prickly and fraught than the way Olive worries about Rose, and the way Rose pulls away after the party, angry and hurt and scared.
This isn’t a book about big things, about saving the world or stopping a disaster; like The Accident Season, it’s a close-knit, big-hearted story about how families hurt and help each other, about the moments when you just can’t keep secrets anymore—and about the way those secrets change when they’re shared. Some secrets are big, like the one Hazel hides from everyone, and others are barely secrets at all. They’re more like the parts of life that you don’t always think to mention, or the things parents might not necessarily plan to share with their kids. The pages of Laurel’s diary keep turning up in Hazel and Olive’s lives, and if you start piecing together why this is, and what it means, before the characters do, it takes nothing away from the experience of reading Spellbook. In fact, it might actually add to it: that layer of understanding is what pulls all the threads together.
What made me love The Accident Season, and makes me love Spellbook even more, are the friendships. The delicate dance that Ivy, Rowan, and Hazel do with their atypical life, the way they love each other, the mistakes they make trying to protect each other—Fowley-Doyle depicts all of it with kindness, with a kind of acceptance that she also builds into the strongest parental and romantic relationships. Olive’s parents ground her, but they also let her be who she is, confrontational phrases Sharpied on her arm and all. Couples start to form, delicately, believably, but friendship is the baseline—a force that supports the parts of each girl that family might not understand.
But what about the magic? What about the actual spell? The relationships in this novel are entirely down-to-earth, but the powers working around them are something else entirely. Maybe. (Keep an eye on Mags’s dogs.) Fowley-Doyle uses magic the way Sarah McCarry, in her Metamorphosis trilogy, uses supernatural interference: it layers another kind of complication onto the already complex lives of the characters, adding a wild, uncontrollable element to the mix. It’s what being a teenager feels like, but the slightly surreal version: things fully beyond your control get their fingers into your life, and doing something about it is difficult, or painful, or the price seems like too much to pay. But like Rose writes on Olive’s arm before the party, if you don’t get lost, you’ll never be found.
Spellbook of the Lost and Found is available now from Kathy Dawson Books.