Have stories about Mean Girls become passé? When I picked up Mariah Fredericks’ Season of the Witch, I realized that I hadn’t come across one in a while, and that fact coupled with my flagging interest in ABC’s Pretty Little Liars spurred this whole train of thought about how the recent uptick in awareness about bullying could have dampened our affection for stories about teenage girls being rotten to each other.
Or maybe it’s just one of those natural ebb-and-flow things, like how sexy vampires got replaced by sexy angels, and sexy angels got replaced by sexy zombies. Which, eww, but that’s a whole different discussion.
Anyway, Season of the Witch!
It’s been a crappy summer for 16-year-old Toni—her parents have been in Tension City ever since her father’s long-term affair came to light—but she isn’t particularly looking forward to starting her junior year, either. See, over the summer, Toni had a brief romance with this guy Oliver, who was on “a break” with his girlfriend, Chloe, but it turned out that it wasn’t supposed to be a “seeing other people” sort of “break.” So Chloe has sworn to make Toni’s life a living hell*, and since she’s the Queen Bee of the school, her vow carries some serious weight.
Got all that?
Anyway, when it comes to revenge, Chloe brings the goods, and after a particularly nasty physical altercation in the bathroom—in which our heroine’s head is introduced to an unflushed toilet—Toni decides to fight fire with fire. Or, well, with witchcraft.
Now, sure, the Underdog Revenge Story is one that’s been told many, many times. But Season of the Witch is a standout, and here’s why:
Toni’s voice. She’s got a snappy way with words, and she uses a lot of smartypants slang, but it all feels and sounds authentic. It might seem dated in a few years, but it feels funny and smart and fresh NOW.
Toni’s decision to keep the adults out of it. This is a factor specific to stories about bullying that drives a lot of readers—including, in some cases, myself—bananas, but in this case, Toni’s reasoning makes a decent amount of sense. And, for readers who take issue with her logic, her emotions will ring true.
The feminist undercurrents. This is HUGELY unusual in a Mean Girls story! While Toni’s romance with Oliver is the catalyst for her story, it’s not really a huge factor. In the past, Toni has certainly enjoyed the company of the opposite sex, but she’s never been driven by the I Need To Snag Me A Dude impulse:
“I mean, really. What is that? Don’t you know that as a female in high school your sole mission is to permanently attach yourself to a male in order to receive oxygen, sustenance, and social significance?”
“Crap, I knew I was forgetting something.”
All of the power—magic or otherwise—in Season of the Witch is wielded by the female characters, and it’s not about women (or girls) in relation to men (or boys): It’s about them in relation to each other.
It starts out in the vein of The Craft, but then turns a corner into Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth territory. While there are plenty of scenes in which Toni and her new friend Cassandra chant spells and whatnot, at its heart, this is a story about friendship, healing, forgiveness, trust, empathy and the simple power of kindness (and, of course, its opposite). Turning that corner may actually cost the book some fans—there are many readers who’ll want the magic to be more, um, magical—but I liked the less-straightforward approach, and I’m still undecided about whether or not any “real” capital-M Magic happened. Fredericks takes an ordinary situation, makes it extraordinary, and then she flips back to normalcy, but in so doing, she makes the extraordinary within the ordinary visible.
*Because obviously it’s all the Other Woman’s fault, and Oliver was an unwitting participant? Agh.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.