Backlist Highlight, Reviews

Backlist Highlight: THE SCAPEGRACERS

Cover: Erewhon Books, Edit: Tori Kiersten Frost

Witchy books became the trend in contemporary fantasy — and everywhere else on the bookshelf — starting around 2019, when fiction publishers began to catch up with a booming modern interest in astrology, tarot, and alternative spiritualities. Despite debuting in a crowded field in the middle of a pandemic, The Scapegracers immediately stands out with its slick, surreal prose and its unforgettable protagonist: a prickly butch outcast witch named Sideways Pike.

The Scapegracers opens at a Halloween party where the three queens of the local high school — Daisy, Jing, and Yates — have paid Sideways $40 to do some real magic. By the end of the night, the four girls have cast a powerful spell that cements them not just as a coven, but as friends — something Sideways has never had before. The only certainty in this new world of magic and mystery is that the four friends will need each other to survive.

It’s hard to overstate what a beautifully queer book The Scapegracers is. There is no overt romance in this book (although with two more to go in the trilogy, that is likely to change) and that gives it an unusual amount of breathing room to explore what simply being queer is like day-to-day. Sideways’ relationships with the rest of the coven, and their ride-or-die relationships with one another, show the complexities and nuances of trying to figure out if you want to kiss a girl or be her best platonic friend, especially when the answer might be “both.”

The Scapegracers has the atmosphere of a fever dream or a tall tale, a liminal space where everything is simultaneously strange and familiar. Sideways’ antique-store-owning dads frequent a classy cabaret-slash-auction-house run by witches; evangelical witch-hunters stalk the fledgling coven in sleek SUVs. To my untrained eye, the spells and rituals have a grounded vibe that reminds me of The Craft or Practical Magic — they feel real and tangible. Readers who grew up with Harry Potter and are now craving a more mature, less “twee” (and less yikes!) take on a hidden magical world will find a good home here.

With colder weather and changing seasons on their way, and a sequel, The Scratch Daughters, on bookshelves this December, now is the ideal time to pick up The Scapegracers and get lost in this amazing novel.

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