When I saw this gorgeous cover pop up on my Twitter feed, I was instantly intrigued by this book, and the blurb only sold me more – a queer, witchy story about supportive friends hexing rude guys sounded perfect! The Scapegracers ended up being not quite what I expected, but I think it’s a brilliant, and much needed, addition to the YA shelves.
Book: The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clark
Read before: No
Publication date: 15th September 2020
Ownership: Proof copy sent free of charge by Erewhon Books. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Blood; parental death (in past, discussed); neglectful childhood in foster care; sexual assault (mentioned); kidnapping; homophobia; animal death.
When outsider Sideways is hired by three popular girls to bring some spookiness to their Halloween party, she doesn’t expect it to kick off a chain of events both brilliant and terrifying. Her spell is far more effective than she’d ever achieved before, and suddenly she becomes part of Jing, Yates, and Daisy’s previously impenetrable clique – but also becomes a target for witch-hunters. The clique quickly becomes a coven, and Sideways and her friends become obsessed with their new-found magic and the power it gives them, while Sideways has to learn not only to lead three newbie witches, but also to cope with having real friends for the first time, and maybe, just maybe, getting a girlfriend…
The writing is arch and almost aggressive in its beauty, with Sideways’s narration having a spot-on teen voice with the kind of self-conscious over-writing that I remember from back in the LiveJournal days! It suits the character and tone perfectly, but it can, at times, be a little too much, and I found that sometimes the meaning of the sentences was obscured by the style of them. I did a lot of rereading of paragraphs to work out what was going on. In particular, I think this affected my ability to really connect with any of the characters apart from Sideways – I couldn’t remember which of Daisy, Jing and Yates had said or done what, or which of them had what kinds of relationships with each other. There’s not quite enough differentiation between the girls and their voices, and the descriptions are focused on individual moments, so I didn’t feel I was able to get a clear picture of most characters. However, I loved the vibe of the group together – it’s so good to see girls supporting each other ruthlessly, rather than tearing each other down.
I did think that the book felt rather unpolished, on the whole. I’m not talking about the kind of messy, raw energy that Sideways exudes (which is definitely what was being aimed for and suits the book well), but the actual technicality of the craft of it. The beginning is explosive, and then the book grinds to a halt for most of the middle; Sideways is literally drugged and kidnapped by witch-hunters, but once she escapes, this plotline is abandoned for much of the book while she worries about how to maintain her friendships. Eventually the plot remembers to get back on the magic train, but way too close to the end for me, and it meant that there was a huge rush of things going on in the last thirty pages or so. It definitely sets things up for a sequel! I would have perhaps preferred if the two disparate plotlines (the dangers of magic and the struggles of friendship) could have been woven together a little more neatly rather than alternating focus.
I’m sounding very negative, but there was a lot of this that I really enjoyed! The atmosphere is so well-done, and even the slower sections are beautifully observed. I loved Sideways’s grimoire and the whole concept of how the magic worked, and there’s a magical being that we meet towards the end of the book whom I found super intriguing and look forward to seeing more of in the sequels! It’s also extremely and casually queer, with Sideways being a proud lesbian, and multiple bi, gay, trans, and queer side characters for whom their identities are only one facet of their characters. I particularly loved Sideways’s dads, who were really sweet! I’ve seen a lot of hype for the f/f relationship in the book, and it is great to have one included, though it gets very little page-time; the focus is far more on the friendships Sideways makes, and the sense of queer community is very clear.
So, this ended up not being quite as much of a hit for me as I expected, but I still think it’s a great and powerful book. As with Wilder Girls, which I reviewed here, this is one to read to soak in the themes and atmosphere, and not worry too much about the plot – it’s not how I prefer to read, but that may not be the case for you! It does exactly what I had hoped The Furies would, offering a much needed witchy book that is fiercely feminist and unapologetically queer, while still having plenty of raw magic and horror. Fans of Buffy and The Craft, and anyone who’s ever been an angry teen desperate for friends, love, and revenge (in any order!), should find plenty to love. And publication was delayed until 15th September, so you can still squeak in a preorder! For me, this gets three and a half cats, but a hearty recommendation – those it works for are going to adore it.