Review by Kaila Johnson
Simon & Schuster, 2022
368 pages, Hardcover, 24.99 CAD, 9781534448872
Middle Grade, Ages 12+
Daisy. Poppy. Lily. Dahlia. Rosemary. Sage. And me. Willow. It’s a garden I didn’t know I was a part of. Something big explodes in my center, sending splinters from my heart to the rest of my body. Even though it’s familiar, it takes me a moment to recognize it. Betrayal.
Magic comes in many forms. For Willow, magic is more traditional in the form of three witch aunts that she didn’t know existed. For Mason, magic is following his mother’s advice that signs come in threes.
Spells for Lost Things encourages readers to find the existing magic in their own lives and make the most of time with their loved ones. This multi-perspective novel switches between the lives of Willow and Mason — two teens who cross paths while spending the summer in Salem, Massachusetts. Upon seeing each other face-to-face, their awkward teenage chemistry leaps off the page.
Despite their budding relationship, Willow’s mother is set on promptly leaving Salem when her late sister’s house is sold. Mary, Willow’s mother, is a closed book and Willow is determined to learn more about where she grew up. With encouragement from her witch aunts, Willow and Mason learn about her family history and the Bell family curse which started in her mother’s family five generations ago. The curse foretells that Bell women lose the person they love most.
Going into this novel, I anticipated Willow to be completely immersed in the magical world of her new-found relatives. Yet, this story is more centred on Willow learning about the family history that her mother kept from her. Willow’s witch aunts were not featured much in this novel, despite the title being a spell they created. The reader views their magic through the eyes of Willow — curious and confused. However, their support is what helps Willow discover more about her witchy ancestors on her own. Mason and Willow must race against time as they figure out what the next clues are, and readers learn about Salem and its history alongside them via a ghost tour.
Magical elements like tarot cards and moon rituals grace the pages, but the magic within the novel truly comes from the relationship between Mason and his foster mother, Emma. Mason, a child of the foster care system, is in Salem because of the family he was placed with. His mother is an addict and his foster mother, Emma, was once close with her. This complex relationship gives the reader insight into Mason’s perception of his mother and foster mother’s actions. My favorite dynamic by far was Emma and Mason. As a foster parent, she shows her love of Mason by respecting and understanding his discomfort in a new environment. Despite how his search to connect with his mother throughout the novel alters his judgement of Emma, she continues to care for him.
While this lighthearted novel tells the beginning of Willow and Mason’s love story, at the centre are mother-child relationships in need of Salem’s magic to bring them closer together. Young readers with an interest in mystery and history will definitely enjoy this novel.
Kaila Johnson is a creative writing BFA student and has contributed to UBC’s student newspaper The Ubyssey for the past three years. She loves creating stories centred around identity and community. When they’re not writing, she can be found painting, watching reality television, or saying hello to an animal nearby.
One thought on “Spells for Lost Things by Jenna Evans Welch”
Can’t remember reading a YA story with foster parenting family dynamics so that in itself makes it stand out.
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