Be Careful What You Witch For
When I picked up Be Careful What You Witch For I’m not sure what I was expecting. It’s a contemporary young adult novel about the fourteen-year-old daughter of one of the most famous actresses in Hollywood, and her attempt at going to a “normal” high school while staying with her aunt. Her aunt, she finds out, is Wiccan and a practitioner of magic, and it seems that she herself has great magical potential. Okay, I can get behind all this. But what I cannot deal with are the racist, homophobic overtones of the main character, the utter absence of anything resembling guidance offered by her aunt, and the complete uselessness of said protagonist. I liked the romantic interest and that’s about it. And I think he definitely deserved better.
When Olivia is given the choice between going skiing for a year or living with her Aunt Tilda (her parents are major film stars shooting on location in Egypt), she chooses Tilda. More than anything else, Olivia hopes that she can spend the year like a normal teenager – going to school, having friends, and not being associated with her super-star mother. Which almost works.
But the thing is, Olivia is awful. The first things she says to the bespectacled girl assigned to help her navigate her first day at school (whose name is Muffin, by the way, which is just ridiculous to me) – is “You could get contacts, you know.” That’s just offensive, Olivia. Come on. The idea of getting into a taxi (in New York City, no less) is horror. Why didn’t Tilda come to the airport with a limo? And the taxi driver is wearing a turban! Oh my God! Was she going to have to learn his language to get around the city?
And it only gets worse when Olivia discovers that magic is real, and that she can make things happen. She spots a cute boy in class, Alex, and “accidentally” spells him to like her. She enslaves him with magic and he literally does anything she asks him to. And she’s not nice about it. Olivia goes out of her way to be nasty to him, mainly to see how far she can go. It’s pretty horrifying.
Before I go back to talking about my issues, I have to take a pause to say that Alex is an absolutely fabulous character. His school-smarts are basically non-existent and he relates everything in life to Wolverine and the X-Men comics, but he’s so enthusiastic about his interests, and then about Olivia and her magic, that you can’t help but like him. He’s like a cocker-spaniel puppy – not the brightest, but a good worker and so cute you can’t help but want to cuddle him.
Anyway, back to Olivia. So she has discovered magic, that her aunt is a witch, that the nice older lady who gave her tea (which was drugged, by the way, to keep her from seeing their coven’s skyclad ceremony) is a witch, and that the book she found in her aunt’s study is full of magical spells. Spells to do things like curse someone with boils and cysts, and to summon demons. And for some reason, these seem like good things to do? I don’t even know.
Olivia also has the tendency to change the people around her while seeming to think she is somehow doing them a favour. For example, one character is a young, black, gay man. She says she can make him “a real boy.” To his face. I just can’t even. What is it about being gay that makes him less “real”, Olivia? Can you explain this to me?
Honestly, I’m surprised this entire review isn’t written in screaming, capital letters.
Now, let’s move away from the teens for a minute, because I want to discuss the complete and utter lack of supervision this girl has. Aunt Tilda is perfectly okay with having her niece stay with her for an entire year, gets her into a wealthy school (which is another entire conversation there), and is perfectly fine with taking on the care of a young teenager. Which, apparently, requires little to no effort! Yay! Let’s just let her go to her new boyfriend’s (about whom Olivia never tells Tilda – she only finds out because the boyfriend himself gets on the phone to ask if it’s okay) house, where the only adult is the maid. No parents, just the maid. Sure, great idea! Let me tell her about magic, and introduce her to someone who is less “white magic” (which is totally not a thing, according to many, if not most, pagans and Wiccans) than she is. This teenager is totally going to understand the potential consequences of her actions! Really!
It’s like she’s never met a teen before.
While I hate Olivia, Tilda was a huge disappointment. She acts like she’s introducing Olivia to magic and imparting her knowledge, but there’s no supervision, there’s no teaching – instead there’s breadmaking and walks to see how magical the leaves are. I’m not saying those things aren’t magical, but what Olivia needed was a discussion of ethics and repercussions. There’s a brief mention of “If it harm none, do as you will.” That’s it.
I wish I could just tell you the whole story, beginning to end, but we do try to avoid big spoilers. I will say that Olivia did not get the ending I wanted for her. Alex certainly didn’t get the ending I wanted for him.
I really can’t recommend this for anyone. The only reason the book isn’t a complete fail for me is Alex and a couple of the other secondary characters. But not Olivia. Never Olivia. I sincerely hope that this book does not get a sequel.
Be Careful What You Witch For may be ordered here.