Review: When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for the ARC. All opinions expressed are my own.

Title: When We Were Magic

Author: Sarah Gailey

Publication Date: March 3, 2020

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

Age Range: YA

Synopsis: Keeping your magic a secret is hard. Being in love with your best friend is harder.

Alexis has always been able to rely on two things: her best friends, and the magic powers they all share. Their secret is what brought them together, and their love for each other is unshakeable—even when that love is complicated. Complicated by problems like jealousy, or insecurity, or lust. Or love.

That unshakeable, complicated love is one of the only things that doesn’t change on prom night.

When accidental magic goes sideways and a boy winds up dead, Alexis and her friends come together to try to right a terrible wrong. Their first attempt fails—and their second attempt fails even harder. Left with the remains of their failed spells and more consequences than anyone could have predicted, each of them must find a way to live with their part of the story.

I’m back at 10 P.M. finishing up a review on a school night while watching Naruto!! When We Were Magic was a pleasant surprise and it was sort of a quiet storm to me; I didn’t expect it to have the impact on me that it did, and I’m so glad I got the chance to read it and give y’all an early opinion so you know to grab it when it comes out next week (if it’s your jam of course). Now, on to the review!

Here is what happened to Josh’s dick.

It exploded.

I have never laughed this much within the first few pages of a book. I mean, it starts with an exploded dick, and these are girls with magical abilities who use the quiet coyote to settle themselves, and they head right into the ways that different identities and intersectionalities experience privilege, and I love it. There’s the right amount of heavy laced with humor and nonchalance that makes it relatable and thoroughly enjoyable to read.

How do we navigate who we are when we’ve lost a part of ourselves? Does it make us an entirely new person? After the whole Josh incident – and their multiple attempts to fix it – Alexis and her crew are changed forever. In their attempt to cover their tracks, each of them (except Maryam) lose something that ultimately makes them who they are. Alexis, being our narrator/main main character/resident ball of anxiety, takes not only her own personal hits, but feels each of her friends’ losses as her own. The Josh thing was a complete accident, but it terrifies her that she was even capable of that power, and when her friends step in and help her, she has the whole “I don’t deserve my friends and love and other good things” crisis that is just so applicable to the teen experience.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that they’re kind of…witches. They don’t actually call themselves that, but yenno. One of the main reasons that this book was so thoroughly fun for me was the writing. It’s written almost in a stream of consciousness/narrator vibe while there are these huge things happening, but it wasn’t in a weird disorienting way if that makes sense. I loved the underlying humor that came with reading it like a teen diary.

But the main reason to love When We Were Magic is the characters themselves.

Lemme just say, the Josh thing happened because Alexis wanted to make Roya jealous and make her admit her feelings for Alexis because Alexis didn’t wanna say it first AND IF THAT AIN’T THE MOST TEEN THING YOU’VE EVER READ I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS. Alexis can communicate with animals and I think she’s the most afraid of her magic, or rather, what she could do with it. Alexis is reckless and kind and the smallest bean. She’s quick to take responsibility and slow to accept love, and while it gets frustrating sometimes, I’m not sure I’d love her as much if it was the other way around.

Marcelina, my Filipina! My goth (but don’t call her that), tree-hugging queen. Her magic lets her literally talk to trees and I don’t think you realize that is one of my dreams. Her magic happens in quiet moments, and it has a sense of certainty and direction. The real Marcelina wears lots of makeup and has a tough exterior with a comforting presence. Her direct opposite is Paulie, who is tall, blonde, and the free spirit of the group. Paulie who is wild and loud and naturally draws attention and has learned to live in it. Her magic is experimental and lets her go wherever the wind takes her. Their little town is too small for Paulie to spread her wings, because she knows she was meant for bigger things.

Although Paulie and Maryam are really close, they fight the most. Maryam is the one who keeps everyone in check, emotionally and otherwise. She doesn’t let anyone get away with hiding their feelings for each other (at least half of them have feelings for each other), but she also doesn’t let them give up on trying to fix the Josh thing. I think we have to try to do the right thing, before we can find excuses for having done the wrong thing. That quote is Maryam in a nutshell. Next to her is the head honcho Iris, who thinks she needs to have all the answers, and freaks out when she doesn’t. Sometimes she gets so stuck in being in control that she needs the others to confirm the smaller parts of reality. Being the only one who can see her own magic, Iris is the one everyone looks to for what to do next, and she (along with Alexis) takes it the hardest when their attempts to fix it go sideways.

And then there’s Roya. Roya the hungry swimmer who is honest and direct and can get lost in herself sometimes. Roya’s magic heals physical wounds, but she tends to keep her own emotions to herself, mostly because of Alexis and that “I’m not sure she likes me” bit. All together, they are some of the most chaotic good characters I’ve ever known. Like some of the other books I’ve been reading lately, the world of teenagers who have some huge responsibility on their shoulders is opened up, and Sarah Gailey does such an amazing job (in my opinion) with bringing both the mundane teenage end-of-the-worldness and the oh-shit-I-have-magic-powers into a harmonious balance.

My final thoughts are that When We Were Magic brings up some small and not-so-small feelings that I didn’t even know how to put into words until I read about the experiences of these six girls. There was a note of hopefulness that was woven into each of their individual personalities while they were all ultimately trying to figure out who they were while still being friends. Although their magic bound them to each other, there was an unspoken bond between them all, and despite the not-fully-happy ending, I still felt fulfilled and satisfied, which is really, all I can ask for.

If you think When We Were Magic has put a spell on you, you can find it at the links below!

Amazon | Book Depository | Books-a-Million

Add it on goodreads!

Ride with pride, my witches.

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