4th December, 2019

Review: The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta (Candlewick Press)

The Lost Coast is the mesmerising tale of six queer witches forging their own paths, shrouded in the mist, magic, and secrets of the ancient California redwoods.

Danny didn't know what she was looking for when she and her mother spread out a map of the United States and Danny put her finger down on Tempest, California. What she finds are the Grays: a group of friends who throw around terms like queer and witch like they're ordinary and everyday, though they feel like an earthquake to Danny. But Danny didn't just find the Grays. They cast a spell that calls her halfway across the country, because she has something they need: she can bring back Imogen, the most powerful of the Grays, missing since the summer night she wandered into the woods alone. But before Danny can find Imogen, she finds a dead boy with a redwood branch through his heart. Something is very wrong amid the trees and fog of the Lost Coast, and whatever it is, it can kill. Lush, eerie, and imaginative, Amy Rose Capetta's tale overflows with the perils and power of discovery — and what it means to find your home, yourself, and your way forward.

I came across this book after I saw a friend post about it on Instagram. I was immediately drawn to the cover and the synopsis as it came at a time when I was a) a little homesick for California and b) feeling that I should start reading more LGBTQ+ literature. Et voilá, this seemed to be the perfect book to do just that.

There are many aspects I loved about this novel, number one being the setting and the "vibe" of the redwood forests of Northern California. Capetta's writing is lyrical and spellbinding: some sentences read just like poetry and it's easy to get drawn into the story's atmosphere. The majestic nature of the giant trees just lends itself to a tale about witchcraft.

Number two: the multitude of voices! In this way, The Lost Coast almost resembles a Greek tragedy. We have individual characters speaking in past and present and we have voices that resemble a chorus. Some reviewers complained about this narrative strategy but I really enjoyed it and found that it contributed to the overall feel of the book. 

Another thing I really liked was the diversity: we have queer characters, characters of various ethnicities and different social backgrounds. The only thing that irked me a little here was that I sometimes had the feeling that the characters' queerness is mentioned a fraction too often. It's great how Capetta contrasts regional differences in levels of acceptance of people's sexual orientation but I would have found it better if - at least at some point into the story - being queer had been treated as something normal (as that's what it is).  Instead I had the impression that the author felt the need to repeatedly put her finger on it again and again and again: Oh, by the way, they are queer. Did we mention that they embrace their queerness? They do as they are witches and they are queer. That is exaggerating a little but it's a factor that ultimately took away a lot of the story for me. Capetta gets so caught up in perfectly describing the atmosphere and landscape and in mentioning the protagonists' sexual orientation that the plot gets burried under all of this. This book could have been amazing but when we look closely at the actual "meat" of the story, there isn't really that much left over once we leave out all the gloss. And that is a pity as there was so much potential. :( 

Yet, this is a solidly good read and I still recommend it despite its fewflaws.  

Rating: 3/5 stars

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