“Chroma Charm” by Diane Callahan (342 words)
No Spoilers: Candice is crushing on another girl in her class pretty hard, but feels like she can’t just go up and show interest. So she orders a set of lip gloss on a whim and discovers that they might be magic, each of the five flavors able to produce a different effect based on the name/flavor. Of course, magic alone isn’t enough to make doing something so frightening as talking to a cute girl easy. But it might help to break the ice and get Candice to loosen up enough to take the first step. It’s a cute and charming story, very short but no less delightful for it. The setting is nicely built, the magic wonderful, and the ending pops.
Keywords: Lip Gloss, Pining, School, Queer MC, Magic
Review: This is a very short but very fun story that really wastes zero space. There are only really two characters (though the piece does a good job of making the setting seem still a bit crowded, in a school with a lot of people, but with very clear focus on Candice and the object of her affections), and really just a series of events, each one corresponding to the magical lip gloss. And I mean I love that it’s magical lip gloss, something so very much of that time of growing up where the kinds of more mature romantic feelings are starting to really ramp up. The piece captures so well the fear that goes along with having a crush and wanting to reach out to the person, wanting to talk, and finding that you just can’t. Feeling at turns invisible and awkward. And I do like that the lip gloss never really made her anything she wasn’t. It’s magic, but in many ways it’s a magic of confidence, of being able to take a step that was paralyzing because she feels like she can do it, because the lip gloss gives her a little boost. Or, at least, a little pop, and then an excuse to talk and maybe a lowering of her shields so that something authentic and cute comes through, and the two girls can finally see each other. It’s a piece that has a lot of fun, where the stakes aren’t exactly high but obviously feel very high because this is one of those first real crush situations that always take up the whole world. And it has an implied happy ending that is just *chef’s kiss*. A wonderful read!
“The Mind of the Castle” by A.J. Brennan (4737 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a young woman gifted in magic. Who, from a young age, has been using her mostly self-taught skills to help maintain her family’s large castle and estate. It’s not a small task, but she’s relished the chance to go from the disabled child people pitied to the person necessary to everything day-to-day. In order to expand her magical knowledge, though, she needs to go off to school, and that presents a problem. Because without her, what will happen to her home and family? The piece balances the very complicated relationship that the narrator has with her home with her hopes for herself and her future. Her desire to be needed against her desire to pursue her talents. And it’s a careful story about learning to ask for help when that has often been a toxic thing.
Keywords: Magic, Chores, Maintenance, Disabled MC, School, Family
Review: I really like how the story builds this relationship between the house and the narrator, so that she both loves it and feels imprisoned by it. Because in some ways it’s a prison that she’s built for herself, one of wanting to help others, to be depended on, because it reversed the relationship of her very early childhood where because of her disability she had to depend on other people so much, which was a great frustration. It’s not something she’s really faced, and since it’s something from her early childhood it’s well and truly rooted in her person and her identity. The house has become something of an extension of herself, as the title emphasizes, and so for her the idea of giving it up is terrifying. And for some really messy reasons. Not because she thinks that it would all fall apart. But because she fears that it wouldn’t. The story does such a good job with the relationship between the narrator and her assistant, building them as friends but with this distance because the narrator is so possessive, because she doesn’t want to give up what has been her way of coping and feeling good about herself, when really her family hasn’t cared all that much about her, but rather has been kinda exploiting her for what she can do to make her life easier. But it also gave her purpose and the feeling of helping them, and it all built into this situation where she was more or less comfortable. But for the parts of her that wanted to go out into the world. To learn. To live. To be more than the mind of a castle. The story shows that change can be very difficult and intimidating, but it can also be necessary, and no caregiver should ever get to the point where that’s all their identity is. They need something for themself, and that’s what the narrator has to go and do. Trusting that her whole life is greater than just the one house. Trusting that other people can maintain her magic without her assistance. Trusting that the people that really do care about her, at least, do want her to realize her full potential. It’s a wonderful story, complex and richly imagined, and you should definitely check it out!
“Wants and Needs” by Irette Patterson (5004 words)
No Spoilers: Miranda is trying to live on her own, without relying on magic to keep her safe and successful. And, well, it’s not easy. Especially not with a magical family who see her decision as a phase, and a dangerous and/or stupid one. But most of them are willing to “let her have her way.” When she innocently wishes for some snacks to help her recover from a particularly dramatic episode of a show she was watching, though, she discovers that not everyone in her family is leaving her to her own devices. And from there the piece examines what security and power can do, and how a person can try to distance themselves from the advantages they were born into because they don’t want to need them, want to know they can succeed on their own, without rejecting who they are or where they’re from.
Keywords: Magic, Family, Wishes, Snacks, Independence
Review: I really like how the story shapes around Miranda’s desire to know that she can live without magic. To feel secure without it, knowing that it’s a kind of addiction, a kind of privilege that she can’t help having, really, but that she can help choosing. And it’s something that puts a lot of stress on her relationship with her family because it’s something of a moral judgment, that by refusing what their legacy has given her, she’s making a statement about them, too. Which isn’t her intent, though I think it’s part of her guilt about having a family history without the same kind of hardships as other people. So she tries to live on her own, not wanting to use magic for her advantage or advancement. Resisting when her grandmother, who has a lot of magic, is offering to ease her way. It seems a lot like money, really, like being in a family that has a lot of it, that has managed to hold onto it and have some affluence. And Miranda’s not wrong--affluence is dangerous, and it’s not something that can be depended on, ultimately. So making sure she can make it on her own is something that makes sense, even as she doesn’t exactly have to. It’s complex and messy and made more so by the way her grandmother, in her later years, doesn’t want to see her grandchild suffer or be unhappy. She wants to use magic to help her family, and that too makes sense. And I love that the story brings the characters to a place where they can maybe get each other, and respect each other, and share a meal on their own terms. It’s a lovely and heartwarming ending, and a fantastic read!
“Digging Up Sergeant Moon Years” by H.L. Fullerton (3232 words)
No Spoilers: Daniel is a January, which is I guess both a familial affiliation and a classification. And he’s stolen his mom’s car along with his cousin Versal in order to drive to where his brother’s body has just been buried after he died as a soldier fighting in the Middle East. The plan is simple--to dig up the body and return with it homeward. And okay, by simple I mean it might involve a kind of resurrection, a mess of a family situation, and whole lot of digging. The piece is strange, building a world with a very interesting kind of vampire in it, and boiling things down really to a brother trying to reconnect to another brother feared lost forever. It’s quiet and it’s fun and it definitely tugs at the heartstrings.
Keywords: Family, War, Death, Vampires, Graves
Review: I think the vampires revealed by the story are fascinating, because they change up a lot of the traditional mythology and introduce a lot that’s new, where vampires (here januarys or lunatics--that one in reference to luna/the moon I think) are people from certain families who, when they die, rise again and begin what they call their Moon Years. How long they live in the Moon Years isn’t known, but I feel there’s a lot the story does with that, and with Daniel especially and his fear of it. Because no matter the family, there’s a chance that you won’t get Moon Years. You might die and just...end. And that’s a terrifying idea, something that Daniel has had to face a lot because his cousin died in a car accident and his brother enlisted in the army to go off and fight. And now has died, and the rest of his family doesn’t want to rescue him from the ground where he was buried. It’s a really loaded situation and for a fifteen year old it’s all sorts of traumatic af. The piece looks rather keenly at what it’s like to be at that age, dealing with so much, from family expectations to the looming prospect of entering a world that is dangerous, where death is treated both as a gateway into a different kind of (perhaps even more fulfilling) life but not for everyone. And the action is fun and mostly light for how messy it is. Daniel and Versal joke and carry with them a kind of youthful cynicism, a promise to fight for what they believe is right, even when they don’t have everything figured out yet, even when they know their resolve is fragile, their power limited, and that they might find their friend and relative dead in a box and don’t know what to hope for even. It’s a story for me about the pressures put on young people and the lack of real guidance they’re given at times, and how they make the best of it, and try to stay true to themselves. A wonderful story and a great way to close out the issue!