Poet and young adult author Raquel Vasquez Gilliland’s adult debut, Witch of Wild Things, is a story of family legacies and complicated sisterhood, told with romantic and lush magical realism.
For the entirety of Sage Flores’ life, she’s known three things. First, the old gods have no love for Flores women and have thus cursed them. Second, she feels anything but lucky to have inherited one of her family’s many “gifts,” which in Sage’s case is the ability to identify plants and commune with their spirits. Finally, she wants no part of either her inherited abilities or retribution from meddling gods. The death of her younger sister, Sky, only solidified Sage’s decision to escape her hometown of Cranberry, Virginia, and never look back. But eight years after Sky’s death, Sage finds herself back amongst her old childhood haunts and slowly starting to accept her uncanny talents.
Returning to her old job at the Cranberry Rose Company, Sage, accompanied by Sky’s ghost, uses her powers to discover new and rare flora in the area. One of her coworkers is a familiar face: Tennessee Reyes, the boy who left her heartbroken in high school. While Tennessee and Sage are workplace rivals at first, their competitiveness is easily quelled as they nerd out on plants and bloom as friends (and then possibly more) while out in nature.Their romance is sweet and subtle, something Gilliland unfolds carefully while Sage deals with the larger obstacles in her life, namely her family.
Sage is the beautiful heart of Witch of Wild Things, with her herculean efforts to both protect herself but still allow for vulnerability. She’s delightfully funny and heartbreakingly flawed; rooting for her comes easily. There are magical family secrets to uncover, cultural identities to reckon with and relationships to mend, most notably with her other sister, Teal, whose ability to summon thunderstorms and lightning have stirred up plenty of trouble in town. Even when the plot momentum ebbs, Gilliland keeps readers enthralled with her luxurious prose. Sage’s work with plants gives Gilliland plenty of opportunities to create gorgeous imagery for readers to lose themselves in. And the sexy Tennessee’s knowing smirks will make readers weak in the knees right along with Sage.
Transportive and bursting with heart, Witch of Wild Things is a tender masterpiece of magical realism.