Longing and Loneliness in Amy Rose Capetta’s The Lost Coast

In the small town of Tempest, California, deadly secrets lurk in the shade of the towering redwood trees. When one of the five queer teen witches collectively known as the Grays disappears, the remaining four cast every spell in their repertoire to try and get her back. After each one fails, they turn to their fallback plan: cast a summoning spell for a witch with the right kind of magic to find Imogen.

Not long after, Danny and her mother arrive from Michigan. Danny has been searching for something—sex, girls, herself, something else undefinable and elusive—and finds the Grays. She is exactly what they need, even if she doesn’t know why or how. Slowly Danny eases her way into the Grays, discovering new friends and a growing attraction in the mini-coven. When two young men are murdered by magic deep in the forest, Danny realizes she’s the key to solving the mysteries of the redwoods. But it might cost her everything she is and might become to do it.

In a lot of ways Amy Rose Capetta reminds me of Anna-Marie McLemore. While Capetta is firmly entrenched in fantasy and McLemore leans toward magical realism, both write with a heart wrenching, lyrical quality that reads more like poetry than prose. They also both explore queerness with a nuance infrequently seen and rarely seen done well. Some of that is that Own Voices love shining through, but it’s also because they’re damn good writers who are interested in the diversity of human experiences. They present those experiences not as the token representative but as one of infinite possibilities. It’s thrilling and a little intimidating and immensely powerful all at once. For the queer kid looking for a label to define or shape or inspire, Capetta and McLemore offer enough choice to light the way.

The main characters of The Lost Coast are scattered all over the diversity spectrum in a way that feels true to the way many Millennial and Gen Z Californians would describe themselves today. And I say that as a Millennial born and raised in NorCal and who currently works in a NorCal high school. Imogen is white, cis, and attracted to women; Leila is white, nonbinary (uses she/her pronouns), and double gray (gray ace and gray aro); June is Filipina, cis, and attracted to femme girls; Hawthorne is Black, cis, bi, and interested in masculine people; Rush is, in her own words, “Fat. Queer. White…Cello player.”

The Grays have had years to sort out their identities, but Danny has spent her teen years avoiding labels. Back in her hometown in Michigan, picking any label other than straight was too risky. That didn’t stop her from flitting girl to girl to girl, but it also meant not being able to try on different labels until she found the one that fit the best. Choosing a label can, for many queer people, feel like being put in a box, and the size of that box can change depending on where you are and who you are with. In Michigan, a box is something to fear, more akin to a cage or solitary confinement; in Tempest, the box is as vast as the redwood forest surrounding the town. Even still, the label Danny picks is as fluid and questing and simultaneously sure and unsure as she is: queer.

Imogen isn’t so much missing as lost. Her body is at home but her mind is somewhere else. There is nothing behind her glassy eyes, no life or fire or emotion or thought. She is a shell of a person, a being of magic and flesh and not much else. Imogen’s Imogen-ness has wandered off somewhere the Grays can’t find her. Although the novel is ultimately about untangling the mystery of what happened to Imogen, the way Capetta goes about solving the mystery is less straightforward. The Grays summoned Danny to Tempest to help them locate Imogen, but before she can do that Danny has to figure out what her magic is, how to use is, and where she fits into the fledgling coven—or if she even does.

Friendship, especially for young adults, is notoriously complex. It’s frustrating and demanding, powerful and awe-inspiring, needful and needed. That the Grays have experimented with each other sexually isn’t surprising if you were in a close knit group as a teen. With that kind of intense intimacy, the lines between hormones, loneliness, friendship, and attraction can get very blurry. The Grays called Danny, but that doesn’t automatically make her one of the gang. She has to earn her place and they have to be willing to carve out a space. Both are easier said than done when for much of the plot Danny fears there might not be any room left in the group while the girls think she is trying to take Imogen’s place.

Things get even more complicated when you factor in a town small enough that everyone knows everyone and keeping secrets means telling lies. For teens as close as the Grays, one lie can rapidly spiral into a web so tangled that revealing the truth can mean betrayal, heartbreak, and the death of the group. Imogen isn’t the only Gray with dark secrets, and the weight of all those seemingly little white lies could shatter everything they hold dear. Their collapse might even drag Danny down with it.

Between Once & Future and The Lost Coast, Amy Rose Capetta is quickly becoming one of my favorite young adult fantasy authors. When I was a teen I would’ve given anything for YA as imaginative and queer as her books. Even now as a thirtysomething adult her work is reshaping and reinvigorating my literary world. The Lost Coast is devastatingly good and I can’t wait to read it again.

The Lost Coast is available from Candlewick Press.

Alex Brown is a high school librarian by day, local historian by night, author and writer by passion, and an ace/aro Black woman all the time. Keep up with her on Twitter and Insta, or follow along with her reading adventures on her blog.

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