In this debut fantasy thriller, a teen’s real life begins to overlap with a colorful world she thinks she’s invented.
In Dallas, 17-year-old Emily Alvey watches Claire, her 10-year-old sister, have fun at a pool party. Yet Emily herself is preoccupied with the deep scratches on her arm, which she doesn't remember receiving. When she shoos a dragonfly away from her ankle, she accidentally kicks Gabe, a cute lifeguard, in the nose. They chat, but she neglects to describe her disastrous life: she must repeat the 11th grade; her father sits in jail; and her mother remains addicted to prescription meds. Later, after leaving a grocery store, Emily runs into Gabe again, only this time she suffers what seems like a panic attack. But the voices in Emily’s mind (a critical woman and a fanciful little girl) tell her that she’s awakening to a Magic that she hasn’t known since she was 7 years old. As a child, she began weaving a story about the First Realm, populated by the Fae—elves and maidens, both at war with the hideous crimbals. Gabe helps her realize that her father’s imminent release from prison coincides with the marks on her arm, which are actually ancient runes that not only spell her last name, but also translate it into “elf warrior.” In this emotionally charged novel, Harris uses traditional fantasy elements to tell a vibrant self-acceptance narrative. Though ostensibly for older teens, Emily’s adventures with her three siblings (Claire, 14-year-old Aidan, and 15-year-old Jacob) begin with rich imagery, and only become more kaleidoscopic when the heroine “can’t decipher between what is fantasy and what is real.” At its best, the prose conjures all the lushness promised by the genre, as when Emily sees “the sparkling honeysuckle air, the serene entanglement of polished stone and creeping wild strawberry.” At other times, however, the worldbuilding feels claustrophobic, and readers may wish for more clearly marked plot points to follow. In the end, after a sad, shocking revelation, Harris firms up her message that it’s vital to “experience your emotions and memories without judging them or reacting to them.”
A whirlwind narrative about an imaginative heroine that uses fantasy to offer salvation from abuse.