By Alixandria Thomason
‘All Our Hidden Gifts’
By Caroline O’Donoghue | Illustrated by Stefanie Caponi
Walker Books; $19.99
“All Our Hidden Gifts” is the perfect YA cozy read, especially now when darkness comes soon after the workday ends. It has witchcraft, tarot, betrayal, romance and spookiness galore. This coming-of-age novel depicts the difficulties of growing up while looking at larger social issues through the eyes of someone who doesn’t understand them quite yet. The author, Caroline O’Donoghue, does an amazing job of putting you in her characters’ shoes and reminding the reader why teenagers make the terrible decisions they so often do.
The backdrop is modern day Ireland, along the banks of Beg River. Maeve is your typical teenager, dealing with everything from judgy cliques to falling in love for the first time. But everything changes when she finds an old tarot card deck at her all-girls Catholic school. She connects with the cards in a profound way, as though they are a part of her, and starts doing readings for other kids. One reading goes particularly ary one Friday afternoon, and come Monday morning, the police are at the school looking for a missing girl — the girl Maeve did the reading for.
Right around this time, a group of radical religious extremists come into town trying to shut down shops and harassing anyone they deem to be sinful. The leader, Aaron, seems to be able to read people in a way that leaves them vulnerable to his cult-like gatherings. He finds their insecurities, their weakest spots, and pushes those buttons until they become loyal followers. Did Maeve really make the girl disappear with her magic, or could this group have gotten ahold of her?
This book has many wonderful twists and turns, connecting the past to the present. Tragedies that happened in the school decades ago might all be wrapped up in the chaos occurring now. Characters you don’t like at the beginning become your favorite, and you start to question what’s real and what’s not.
I loved the honesty of this book and the way it contrasts the seemingly insignificant issues of being a teenager with lore and magic that spans continents and cultures. The characters all show great love and bravery alongside their faults and insecurities. The main character is almost an anti-hero, making mistakes that border on unforgivable. But her desire to fix her wrongs and protect her friends makes you keep loving her until the end.
The representation in this book is lovely. The main character has a diverse group of friends: one a genderqueer bisexual character and the other a Fillipino-Irish character. Maeve’s older sister is a lesbian, and her and her girlfriend get some good story time as well. It doesn’t feel forced, like they were just trying to add in characters to draw in a LGBTQIA+ audience, but more like a totally natural blend of humans from different backgrounds and places. It deals with issues of racism, homophobia and hatred toward people who are perceived different from the “norm.” It also shows how we sometimes don’t see what other people are going through because of our own privilege.
My only issue with “All Our Hidden Gifts” was the pacing. It felt like nothing happened for pages at a time, and then all of the sudden dozens of things were going on. Like most YA novels, you could kind of see the ending coming, but it was beautiful to watch it unfold nonetheless.
Trigger warnings: There is a pretty graphic scene of discrimination at a queer support rally that was hard to read, and a violent act committed against Maeve’s older sister and her sister’s girlfriend. There also is talk of child and spousal abuse. Characters recount stories of racism, classism and transphobia, and there is a scene with descriptions of blood. Luckily because this is a YA novel, nothing gets too violent, but the hatred is there nonetheless.
O’Donoghue is a New York Times bestselling author and also hosts a podcast called “Sentimental Garbage.” She primarily writes YA fiction with spooky vibes. The second book in this series, “The Gifts That Bind Us,” came out this year, and the third book, “Every Gift is a Curse,” comes out in 2023.