by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)
How does someone who has always been alone make a change? Sangu Mandanna's The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm) focuses on Mika Moon, a witch who spent her childhood being raised by a succession of nannies and tutors and who now spends her adulthood on the move with only her sweet dog and her magical koi pond as traveling companions.
(And yes, this was perfect for the witchy October season, but you cannot go wrong with this fuzzy, warm read any time of the year!)
Mika faithfully follows the rules that govern the society of witches, which are largely imposed and enforced in her area of Britain by Primrose Beatrice Everly, who was also Mika's caretaker as she grew up. At 31, living alone and hiding her magic, Mika realizes that her isolation is suffocating. Mika does love and respect Primrose, whose opinion still matters very much to her, but she begins to question if the way things are, including hiding their true nature and never befriending each other or staying together in one place, is truly the way that things must be.
When Mika's social media account, where she does magic but plays it off as simple trickery, gets a mysterious message, she finds herself unexpectedly traveling to Nowhere House, where she meets three young witches who are - against all the rules - being raised together as sisters. She meets their caretakers including Ian and Ken, Lucie, and the librarian Jamie, all of whom are fiercely protective of the girls.
Mika also discovers that the girls - Rosetta, Terracotta, and Altimira - are indeed all witches and are desperately in need of someone to help them learn to manage their magic, especially because Edward, an ominous presence who keeps up with the legal affairs of the estate, is due to make an appearance very soon and will undoubtedly separate the girls if he discovers there is anything unusual about their living circumstances. And so Mika finds herself packing up her few possessions and making her way to the mysterious (and lovely) home.
“It’s a leap of faith to love people and let yourself be loved. It’s closing your eyes, stepping off a ledge into nothing, and trusting that you’ll fly rather than fall. I can’t step off the ledge for you. It’s something only you can do."
But Mika's deeply rooted isolation proves challenging for her, and the girls (particularly Terracotta, who is very protective of her family) have a hard time warming up to tutoring. The other members of the caretaking crew have all had their own traumas that impact their present, and they all dread the inevitable visit that will soon be coming their way. Jamie, who has his own past that he will eventually have to face, finds himself struggling to support Mika as a tutor because he worries that harm will come to the girls. But all of the adults can see that the girls desperately need guidance and support with their magic.
I absolutely loved everything about this story that centers found family and embracing who you truly are. There is so much exploration of what it costs to pretend to be different than you are so that society is more comfortable with you, and we learn with Mika how powerful it is to find people who accept you as you are.
“It was peace, the kind Mika was beginning to see she had never known. She hadn’t understood how exhausting and heartbreaking it had been to hide such a big part of herself all these years, to reshape and contort herself into something more acceptable. She hadn’t realised just how heavy her mask had been until she’d discovered what it was to live without it."
This book is beautiful, hopeful, and full of surprises, and I was completely enthralled! I listened to it on audio, and the audiobook is phenomenal. It is an enchanting story, and I'm sure it will be one of my favorites from this year. I will definitely be reading more by Sangu Mandanna soon!
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