A Not-So-Magic Sapphic YA Romance: Improbable Magic for Cynical Witches by Kate Scelsa

the cover of Improbable Magic for Cynical Witches

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Content warnings: homophobia (from antagonists), drug abuse (marijuana, alcohol)

My experience with Improbable Magic for Cynical Witches stems from a core misunderstanding about what this book is. The summary explains that Eleanor doesn’t believe in magic, but her life will be changed by mysterious forces, that magic will arrive. It’s tagged as ‘fantasy’ on Goodreads.

The magic is of the subtle and metaphorical variety. This is a realistic, contemporary romance. (Which is fine, if that’s what you’re into.)

It’s the story of Eleanor, a high school dropout with a broken heart and an ailing mother, and how she is drawn in by a new group of friends—and especially by Pix, a new romantic interest. As Eleanor gets more and more involved with Pix and her coven, she develops the courage to face her past.

Eleanor’s emotional struggles are portrayed realistically. When she first moved to town, she was taken in by bright, popular Chloe, who became her best friend and lover… and then got tired of her and dropped her. I can attest that it felt devastatingly realistic. Kate Scelsa deftly portrays the devastating impact of a vulnerable young person being emotionally used.

All the more serious themes are integrated artfully. Homophobic villains contrast with a loving, supportive parent, albeit one with her own struggles. Eleanor’s unhealthy pot habit is consistent. That I found particularly interesting. She smokes to deal with her unhappiness, and though it is drug abuse, it’s never treated as addiction. To me, that’s a positive: yes, Eleanor uses as an emotional support, but this is treated as an aspect of trauma rather than presented with anti-drug scaremongering.

Personally, I didn’t like this book overall. I expected real magic and I don’t enjoy realistic stories. But that’s my own bias and an issue of ambiguous language; I can recognize that the writing is nuanced and the story is tender. For fans of realistic YA romance and recovery from the mundane devastations of high school life, give it a try.