Tuesday, November 3, 2020

When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey: A Review

Just a bit of an aside before we get into the whole review I wrote.

I call this my review that just keeps on giving. I read this book earlier in the year, just before the lockdown hit, and I really wanted to like it. Instead, once I finished it, I went on a word rampage, typing everything that came into my head, just this long stream of gripes that I just had to put down on Goodreads before I could really put the book away in my mind. I was happy when so many people liked what I wrote because I kept checking reviews while I was reading, searching for someone who had the same issues I had with the book. The representation in the book made me want to adore this story but I couldn't get past, well, the story, which is not the takeaway you want from a book. So I wrote it all down, tagged it with a spoiler alert, and hoped other readers would find that they could relate to the so many issues I had within the story.

And so with that out of the way, onward to the review I wrote that I have to admit, turned out pretty okay in my opinion.

I must have missed something.

That's the only explanation I have for why it seems like there are so many glowing reviews for this book and I am sitting here thinking about how many things I just could not stand about this story.

First of all, for a book that is supposed to be about friendships, I was constantly TOLD that these girls are the absolute definition of the best of friends but I wasn't actually SHOWN that there was any truth to that statement. What readers are given in the synopsis is the bare basics of what is given in the novel. Main character Alexis makes a mistake on prom night, asks her friends for help and when things just get worse, they declare that they will all help Alexis to make it better. And that is it. There is no true background given to explain the devotion between these girls. The only thing that seems to bind them together is their share in the talent of magic but in my mind I was waiting for the why about how they stay linked, how they truly depend on one another, how they truly support each other. They agree to hide what Alexis did and protect her at all costs but other than that, they do not actually seem to be all that close as friends.

I think the main reason why the friendships never landed for me was because of the horribly weak lead, Alexis. This girl drove me crazy. Every other thought in her head is about how she wishes she was enough to deserve the loyalty of her friends and the love of her family and the constant barrage of despairing thoughts made me want to wring her neck. For example, Alexis has a crush on her best friend and has spent years pining away for her. Over the course of the book, several of her friends in the group point out that not only are Alexis's feelings noticeable to everyone but the object of her affections feels the same about her. She was explicitly TOLD that her crush cares about her and yet, when the two of them get together, the next day Alexis is going on about how she knows the girl does not truly care about her, not like Alexis feels about her, she was only trying to make Alexis feel better, and on and on and on.

Gag me with a spoon.

Alexis is like this the entire book. I can't for the life of me figure out if the author was making fun of the melodramatic leads of other Young Adult books because good grief, I wanted this girl to stop sticking her head in the ground and own up to what was happening in the book. Even when she was told off for the way she was acting, the takeaway she got was that she did not want to make her friends mad, she was going to try harder, oh goodness, Alexis does not deserve their love, how can Alexis make herself worthy AND PLEASE JUST MAKE HER STOP.

And I honestly don't think these girls are good people. At one point, a classmate of theirs approaches Alexis and basically tells her that she knows that Alexis can do magic and she knows that Alexis was the last one seen with the boy that seems to have gone missing and that it is suspicious that Alexis has not come forward, and so on. So what does Alexis do? She helps one of her friends put a horrible spell on the classmate, something that can seal her mouth shut if she tries to tell anyone about them. And then things go on, the girl approaches them a few times but Alexis and her friends don't want anything to do with the classmate, it is her fault this has happened, Alexis and her friends warned her. And in my head I am thinking, these girls are hurting an innocent classmate because she thinks Alexis had something to do with a boy who has gone missing, which is all true except he is not missing, he is actually DEAD, but hey, they are protecting their dear friend, everyone else is the enemy.

Give me a break.

But the worst for me was the main conflict of the story. Alexis made a horrible mistake and she killed a boy with her magic. It was an accident but she can't go to authorities and explain what happened because the circumstances actually make absolutely no sense. Alexis texts her friends for help and they agree to help her get rid of the body using their magic. And this is where I was left shaking my head. They immediately think they need to get rid of the body. It does not occur to them until later that hey, they have MAGIC, maybe they should try to bring him back to life first. It never comes up to them to try to restore the boy back to life and I am left wondering, is there a reason for this? Have they tried something similar in their youth and there were consequences? Did they try to bring someone back and it didn't work and they suffered for it? As is, they are suffering for the magic they tried in just getting rid of the body and in the long run, each girl loses something in themselves. One loses childhood memories of a sibling, another loses the ability to cry, someone loses the ability to forget and her ability to see the color green. And Alexis? All she loses is the ability to dream, which just seems really meh to me because the reader is not told if this affects her day to day life, if it makes her feel lost without the ability to dream, if it affects her ability to truly rest after falling asleep.

In fact, not only do I feel like Alexis did not lose much, she ends up with a version of a happily ever after with the girl she has loved for years. None of the girls regain the bits they lost but hey, they have graduated and they are going in different directions, and this is their last chance to be kids together before they leave the next day on new adventures and they are going to be better people, Alexis is going to live her life and make herself worthy because she is not only living her life for herself but is somehow making her life mean something because the boy she killed does not get a future because of her.

What then is the point of the accident to begin with?

By the end of the book, I was grateful that I did not bother picking up a physical copy. I probably would have thrown it across the room when I finally got to that ending. Basically, definitely not a book for me or something I'll try again in the future. For a book that started out with a bang, literally, it never cemented itself as funny, charming or even that interesting. I'm sorry I could not find anything worth praising about the book. Hopefully Gailey's Magic for Liars is more my speed since I have a copy of that and plan to read it soon.


Rating on my Blog Scale: 1.5 Stars.

I have other works by Sarah Gailey in my personal library, as in yes, I OWN these copies, because NO I do not own When We Were Magic in any way, shape or form. Besides Magic for Liars, I also have the River of Teeth set and Upright Women Wanted. I am a firm believer in just because I didn't like THIS book, it does not mean I won't adore something else by the same author.

It's a glass half full kind of thing. Still, here's hoping with fingers crossed.

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