The end of her favorite paranormal romance series coincidentally sparks the beginning of a new phase in Briony Hatch’s life. Previously, her day-to-day routine consisted of following around her popular, unkind childhood friend Julia and fantasizing about being Starling Black, badass exorcist. Now, though, Briony’s Great Aunt Hope is dead and her Great Uncle Albert is moving into a senior home, so her mom is finally divorcing her dad and moving into Hope and Albert’s home. Briony has to face the dismal reality that Starling Black’s adventures are over, her best friend is a terrible person, and there’s no magic in the world. But first she tries one more of Starling’s spells — and it actually works.
If you’ve ever been a quiet, awkward book lover, it is hard not to identify with Briony Hatch, especially because she’s dealing with the end of a series that is important to her. When Starling Black ends, it’s like a friend has died — but the world is unsympathetic to Briony’s feelings. In fact, her teachers and mother come down hard on her for being out of touch with the world, and Julia is mostly there to tell Briony that her looks are not up to par. The beginning of the book contains a list that illustrates just how deeply Briony has absorbed these messages. For example, Briony writes, “Reasons why being Starling Black would be better than being me: Starling wears amazing capes and britches and belts with silver buckles and thigh-high leather boots. I wear a school uniform 90% of the time and the other 10% I spend in a tracksuit because I am too fat and ugly to wear anything else.”
Halfway through the book, the tone changes from realism to fantasy when Briony’s spellcasting succeeds and the book turns into a paranormal self-help adventure. Briony’s self-esteem issues are neatly solved by the boost of confidence she gets from knowing that magic is real and from being able to wield its power for good. It’s a bright plot where the romance is mostly that of Briony learning to love herself, though there is a subplot involving a crush on her goth neighbor, and she does have fantasies about Starling Black and her ghostly love interest, Harry. There is one point where these fantasies become humorously semi-explicit; this, along with occasional uncouth language used in anger, makes the book best suited for older teens and adults.
The art, appropriately, looks like it was painstakingly drawn by an artist just starting out, perhaps a talented teenager. It is drawn in clean, stark black and white with minimal background. Though the pacing of the panels can feel flat, there are flourishes of personal detail that add to the environment of Briony’s world, like the sprinkle of freckles on her nose or the incredibly wrinkled face of her dead aunt. The story, with its gentle paranormal spin on a well-worn plot, will appeal to readers who identify with Briony’s outsider status and the way she finds personal redemption in it.
by Penelope Skinner
Art by Ginny Skinner
Limehouse Books, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16+)