Title: “When My Heart Was Wicked”
Author: Tricia Sterling
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Magical
Publication Date: February 24, 2015 (Scholastic – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided finished copy
Summary: “I used to be one of those girls. The kind who loved to deliver bad news. When I colored my hair, I imagined it seeping into my scalp, black dye pooling into my veins.
But that was the old Lacy. Now, when I cast spells, they are always for good.”
16-year-old Lacy believes that magic and science can work side by side. She’s a botanist who knows how to harness the healing power of plants. So when her father dies, Lacy tries to stay with her step-mother in Chico, where her magic is good and healing. She fears the darkness that her real mother, Cheyenne, brings out, stripping away everything that is light and kind.
Yet Cheyenne never stays away for long. Beautiful, bewitching, unstable Cheyenne who will stop at nothing, not even black magic, to keep control of her daughter’s heart. She forces Lacy to accompany her to Sacramento, and before long, the “old” Lacy starts to resurface.
But when Lacy survives a traumatic encounter, she finds herself faced with a choice. Will she use her powers to exact revenge and spiral into the darkness forever? Or will she find the strength to embrace the light?
☆: 4/5 stars – a great magical realism debut!
Review: This one was a pleasant surprise, though I wish it had been longer. “When My Heart Was Wicked” is a snapshot of what can happen to someone as a cause of an unstable, dangerous childhood trying to become an adult – but through the lens of Francesca Lia Block-esque magical realism. I loved this one, and it makes me feel like Stirling will be one awesome author to watch. If you’re looking for a little magical realism in your tough stuff YA issues book, “When My Heart Was Wicked” is definitely the one you want to pick up.
My biggest problem with this book – the lack of development with the antagonist of this book (or well, perhaps the most major one, as there were really two), Cheyenne. While we understand she’s a bad mom, kinda a bad person (though redemption seems possible in the end), we don’t really understand a lot of her. She feels like a shallower version of the mother in “White Oleander” (in fact, a lot of this book feels like that book, but with more magic and witchery instead) – maybe slightly mad, or a sociopath, but with love for her daughter that’s just been twisted up in all sorts of ways that psychologically “normal” people cannot understand. However, she is really pretty abusive, and does cause harm to others – both magically and normally. But I wanted more – we get slight flashes of her motives and her roots in this book, but we don’t quite get enough to go on for everything to feel really solid.
So for Cheyenne in general, I think we needed one good last edit.
But for Lacy? Her character development (which, was also used as worldbuilding in one of the most creative ways I’ve ever seen) was spectacular, and I felt as if I were right there with her. Using her astronomical sign (Gemini) to help develop her character was brilliant move on Sterling’s part – the good twin, and the bad twin. Also, the idea of her “bad self” as redeveloping in an egg was a great idea as well, and I felt like it fit very well. She was quite the sympathetic protagonist, with a little bit of unreliable narrator thrown in for good measure. All of the tricks of the trade were used for Lacy, and they all worked. I don’t think I’ve seen that in YA recently from debut authors – or if I have, it’s been only a handful. Bravo.
As for the general worldbuilding (outside of Lacy), I felt that Chico was far more developed compared to Sacramento. Or rather, if Chico was the “light”, Sacramento was the under-developed “Dark”. I feel like we could have had more details there about the neighborhood, about the school, about all the places Lacy was currently in and had been to in the past with her mother, etc. I wanted more details other than the Demeter’s Daughter shop and the house. I really wanted more there so that the “outer” world felt more complete.
Otherwise? One of my favorite debuts of 2015 so far. If you like Francesca Lia Block’s brand of magical realism (also echoed in Janet Fitch’s “White Oleander”), you’re going to want to pick up this book. “When My Heart Was Wicked” is out now from Scholastic in North America, so be sure to check it out when you get the chance!