Toil and Trouble
Edited by Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe
Published August 28, 2018 by Harlequin Teen
When I heard about an anthology of young adult witch stories, I was like, “sign me up.” I’m into witches, and I like short stories, so this is a perfect fit for me.
Toil and Trouble is a really great anthology. It’s a diverse collection, with lots of POC and LGBTQ+ characters. All of the writers are women, and many of the stories have a deeply feminist bent. I enjoyed all of the stories, some more than others, but there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch.
“Starsong” by Tehlor Kay Mejia. This one has a Latinx heroine and a queer romance. The heroine is a bruja who reads the stars. This one was cute, but a little slight.
“Afterbirth” by Andrea Cremer. This story has the most historical context of any in the collection, being set in 17th century New England, not a good time for anyone who didn’t stick to societal norms. A midwife is accused of witchcraft after a woman dies in childbirth. This was one was dark and made me glad once again that I live now.
“The Heart in Her Hands by” Tess Sharpe. This was one of my favorites. In this world, teens wake up one day with writing on their bodies. It’s the first words their soulmate will say to them. But the heroine is already in love with someone, her female best friend, and she has to fight the established power structure to be able to live her. I loved this look at rebellion and not accepting the fate that society forces on you.
“Death in the Sawtooths” by Lindsay Smith. This was another favorite. It has a very urban fantasy sort of feel, and I would like to read a full-length book set in this world. The heroine is an outcast witch who’s pledged to the Lady of Slumbers (a sort of death goddess), something the other witches look down on, until they desperately need her help.
“The Truth About Queenie” by Brandy Colbert. This one is as much about love as it is about magic. The heroine is in love with her best friend. She has powers, but she hasn’t accepted them or learned to control them yet, and she’s forced to deal with it when her friend comes home with a new girlfriend.
“The Moonapple Menagerie” by Thveta Thakrar. This one is very dreamy. A group of girls are putting on a play when a creepy creature shows up to demand a role in the play. It’s funny and pretty weird/
“The Legend of Stone Mary” by Robin Talley. This one is set in the 70s and features a girl having to deal with a family curse. It has a queer romance. It’s dark and has some slightly Carrie vibes.
“The One Who Stayed” by Nova Ren Suma. What happens when a group of women meet around a fire in the woods? This one is typical Nova Ren Suma: creepy, mysterious, and compelling.
“Divine Are the Stars” by Zoraida Cordova. A girl is called home to her family’s ranch in Colorado by her grandmother only to find that her grandmother has literally taken root and become part of the house. This was another favorite, and it has a Latinx heroine.
“Daughters of Baba Yaga” by Brenna Yovanoff. Two witches team up to get revenge on the worst people at their school. Another one with slightly Carrie vibes. It’s creepy and good.
“The Well Witch” by Kate Hart. This one takes place in Texas in 1875. A woman living alone has water magic, but is it enough to save her when three men show up on her property? This one has a POC heroine.
“Beware of Girls with Crooked Mouths” by Jessica Spotswood. Another story about the power of fate. A young witch has a vision of her future that leads her to take drastic actions, thinking she’s saving her sisters from a terrible fate. But what if things don’t fall in line? One of the sisters is bisexual,and this is apparently not an issue in their society.
“Love Spell” by Anna-Marie McLemore. A bruja who makes spells to cure lovesickness falls in love with a trans altar boy who accepts her when the rest of the church turns away. I really loved this one, and I’m planning to pick up the author’s other works.
“The Gherin Girls” by Emery Lord. This one was another favorite. It’s about a trio of sisters. One has recently left an abusive relationship and her sisters are trying to support her. This is one of the least “magical” of the stories, but it’s also one of the most emotional. Two of the sisters are queer.
“Why They Watch Us Burn” by Elizabeth May. The last story was my favorite. It’s set in the near future where inconvenient women are accused of witchcraft and sent to labor camps. It’s beautiful and disturbing and a little reminiscent of the The Handmaid’s Tale.
I highly recommend this collection.