In Carolinia, one of the nations of the former United States, magic enters people like a virus, mostly killing them.
If you survive, the magic stays and you become a witching. Noam, the Jewish Latinx son of undocumented immigrants from neighboring Atlantia, is one. With his parents dead, Noam is brought to the witching training center, receiving personal tutoring from the minister of defense, Calix Lehrer. Noam sees this as an opportunity to work from the inside to bring rights to the many refugees who have come to Carolinia to escape the virus that still plagues other areas. Fellow student Dara, a dark-skinned and beautiful teen boy, meanwhile favors an anti-refugee politician who has a frosty relationship with Lehrer. If not for the fact that Noam, who is bisexual, harbors lusty feelings for Dara and is sneaking around to maintain a relationship with a father figure at the Migrant Center, or that no witching can be trusted if you don’t know what types of magic they’re good at, things would be simple. Lee’s debut is a thriller with obvious allegorical connections to today’s political climate, but it doesn’t read as message-y; even those with genre fatigue shouldn’t regret giving it a try. If it weren’t for the unsatisfying, obviously sequel-ready ending, this would be a standout.
Diverse characters, frank discussions about sexual and mental abuse, and reasonably plausible science-based magic elevate this above many dystopian peers. (Dystopian science fiction. 15-18)