by Hannah Abigail Clarke
An outcast teenage lesbian witch finds her coven hidden amongst the popular girls in her school, and performs some seriously badass magic in the process.
Skulking near the bottom of West High’s social pyramid, Sideways Pike lurks under the bleachers doing magic tricks for Coke bottles. As a witch, lesbian, and lifelong outsider, she’s had a hard time making friends. But when the three most popular girls pay her $40 to cast a spell at their Halloween party, Sideways gets swept into a new clique. The unholy trinity are dangerous angels, sugar-coated rattlesnakes, and now–unbelievably–Sideways’ best friends.
Together, the four bond to form a ferocious and powerful coven. They plan parties, cast curses on dudebros, try to find Sideways a girlfriend, and elude the fundamentalist witch hunters hellbent stealing their magic. But for Sideways, the hardest part is the whole ‘having friends’ thing. Who knew that balancing human interaction with supernatural peril could be so complicated?
Rich with the urgency of feral youth, The Scapegracers explores growing up and complex female friendship with all the rage of a teenage girl. It subverts the trope of competitive mean girls and instead portrays a mercilessly supportive clique of diverse and vivid characters. It is an atmospheric, voice-driven novel of the occult, and the first of a three-book series.
I received an eARC of The Scapegracers from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Scapegracers is a messy, deliciously grimy novel about witchcraft and finding your girl gang. For anyone who ever wished that The Craft was queer (and didn’t treat magic like a punishment), this is a book for you.
Teenage outcast Sideways Pike is dragged into the friendship group of three of the most popular girls at her high school – Jing, Daisy and Yates – after she performs magic for them at their house party. Magic is something Sideways has been practising for years, as has meeting pretty girls and trying not to have a nosebleed, but this party changes everything.
She meets a pretty girl, Madeline, who actually seems to like her, she finds herself with three new friends and, rather worryingly, discovers that witchhunters are still very much a thing in the 21st century.
Clarke’s writing is stunning and I wanted to take a bite out of it and let it dissolve on my tongue. I’ll admit that there were times when I felt like the writing got in the way of the story ever so slightly, every now and then there’d be a piece of writing that was beautiful but by the time I’d finished reading it I’d forget what the last character to speak had actually said. For the most part, though, this is a novel I found really easy to get through and Clarke’s writing was a delight.
Their real triumph in this novel is Sideways and her new coven. Sideways is so much fun and a far more realistic depiction of what someone who describes herself as a witch in high school would actually be treated like, compared to some of the other self-proclaimed witches we encounter in contemporary YA. The majority of people at her school think she’s weird and tend to stay far away from her, and I loved getting to know her. She’s built up an ‘I don’t care what you think’ wall but, when she befriends Jing, Daisy and Yates, we realise just how desperate for friends she’s been.
Speaking of friends, I love these three so much. I wasn’t sure what to think of them at first and I was slightly nervous Clarke would go down the route of Sideways realising who her real friends are after these popular girls use her and leave her, but that’s not what this story is at all. The Scapegracers completely ignores that tendency storytellers have to make popular girls the enemy and it’s so refreshing.
Yates is adorable and I love Jing, but I think my favourite of the girls might have to be Daisy. She’s intimidating, even threatening, but she will fight literally anyone for her friends and I love characters who love their friends.
The only real reason this novel didn’t quite end up being a 5 star read for me was because I could see where the plot was going from quite early on in the story. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all – if you correctly guess where an author’s going, it proves they’ve written their book in a way that you’ve been able to figure it out with them which is great – but it did mean I kept waiting for Sideways to make a realisation that I couldn’t help feeling she should have made quite a while before she did.
That aside, though, this story is a celebration of friendship which is all I want from my witch stories – especially when so many witch stories focus on romantic love rather than platonic love, which I personally find a little boring. I’ll definitely be picking up the next book in this series and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Sideways and her girls!