Bianca’s (Serenade, 2014) YA fantasy sees a teen witch learning her craft while coping with her dark, strange past.
High school sophomore Abigail Harper has been in the care of her aunt Vivienne ever since a house fire killed her parents. Now, suffering from claustrophobia and with burn scars on her hands, Abi is the easy target of bullies. On a class trip to an old prison, the attractive and popular Jessica Lee teases Abi, who wishes her tormenter’s “outside would finally match her insides. Ugly.” Jessica suddenly begins raking her nails down her face and screaming; the incident leads Vivienne to move them from Philadelphia back to Shadow Springs, Maine, specifically to the manor in which Abi’s mom grew up. Shadow Springs is a small town surrounded by deep woods and a marshland doubling as a Native American burial ground. In a new high school, Abi must also navigate a fresh set of cliques. She ends up joining a group of archaeology enthusiasts called the Lost Girls: Cora, Lucy, Madeleine, and teacher Miss Dixon. Abi soon learns that her new friends possess magical powers and practice witchcraft. They invite her to hone her ability to project reality. Abi agrees and is drawn into uncovering a generations-old conspiracy by the power-mad town founder, Jeremy Shadow. Opening a new YA series, author Bianca fuses paranormal tropes (like a witch’s cat familiar) with the character-driven cleverness of Marvel comics (Abi even compares superhero guru Stan Lee with Shakespeare). At the narrative’s heart, however, is the problem of bullying; Shadow High’s Gabi quickly becomes Abi’s nemesis, and Bianca illustrates their rivalry in daggerlike snippets: Abi “heard a pretentious, peeling giggle...already knowing who I would see.” Most of the story spins on tried-and-true elements—a powerful amulet, demonic intruders, and ancient texts. Yet Bianca’s complex plot unfurls slowly but organically, bringing readers to creepy locales that answer the question: what if Stephen King created Hogwarts?
Detailed spells and robust personalities make this a bolder-than-average YA adventure.