"Bras & Broomsticks," the first book in Sarah Mlynowski's "Magic in Manhattan" series, introduces readers to 14-year-old Rachel Weinstein, an average high school freshman who learns that her mother and younger sister, Miri, are both witches - and she's not.
The book begins with Rachel receiving a surprise gift in between classes at school: shoes she drooled over at the store that her mother couldn't afford. But how did they end up in her locker? When her mother calls and tells her to come home right away after school, Rachel is annoyed - this is the first time the "A-list" crowd has invited her for pizza. But she goes home, only to learn that her mom and little sis, Miri, are witches. Could this day get any worse?
Rachel's mother instructs Miri to not use her powers or spells until she's been properly trained, but Rachel has other plans. She wants to convince her sister to make her dance well, so she can star in a student production and be accepted into the cool crowd at school. Oh, and she also wants her sister to put a spell on her father's soon-to-be new wife, so they don't get married and her parents can get back together. Sounds reasonable, right?
Rachel is impulsive and realizes that if she did have magical powers, she would just use them to make everything go her way. So instead, she tries to manipulate her 11-year-old sister to do her dirty work for her. As you can imagine, there are consequences to every spell and the magic doesn't always work the way it should - a hard lesson the girls must learn first-hand.
The dialogue and character interactions were realistic and reminded me of that awkward time when I was a high school freshman just trying to fit in. Rachel forgets about her true friends for her new crowd, who don't support her and don't even seem to really like her. When Rachel's powers wear off - thanks to her mom reversing Miri's spells - her new friends are quick to judge her and get angry when things don't go as planned.
I especially liked this interaction between Rachel and her sister about why her mother no longer practices magic:
Miri: "She said experiencing the bad makes you stronger. Bad things make you a more interesting person. More profound."
Rachel: "In that case, I must be the most interesting person alive.
As for the future stepmother plotline, I was pleased with the way Mlynowski handled the character disputes. At one point, Miri puts STB (soon-to-be stepmonster, shortened to STB, aka Jennifer) under a truth spell and the girls realize that she really does care about them and want them to like her. Oh. They weren't expecting that, and they begin to feel guilty for how they've been treating her.
When the girls plot to get their parents back together, it is their mother who is the voice of reason. As a witch herself, she tells them that she could have easily put their father under a spell, but it wouldn't have been real love.
There are many cringe-worthy moments where Rachel's youth and maturity levels are brought to the surface and I think that is what makes Mlynowski's characters so relatable. Rachel, while talking about Raf, a boy she has a crush on: "How sweet is he? Not only does he still want to go to the Fling with me, but he's a good son. He's like chocolate mixed with cotton candy mixed with Kool-Aid. If I weren't so in love, I would get a cavity." It also reminded me how shallow some of my actions were when I was in high school and worried about who would take me to the dance and what I would wear. But unlike Rachel, I didn't try to sabotage a wedding because it was to take place on the same night as a school dance.
"Bras & Broomsticks" came out in 2005 and was the first in the series, followed by "Frogs & French Kisses," "Spells & Sleeping Bags" and "Parties & Potions," which finished off the series in 2008. I plan on reading the rest of the series. Each book is fun and a quick read.
Interestingly, the books originally were called the "All About Rachel" series. "Bras & Broomsticks" reportedly was going to be a full-length movie starring Emma Roberts and was hinted in the acknowledgements of "Frogs & French Kisses" but appears to have stalled in pre-production. Such a shame, because I think this could be a really great series and introduce young readers to a great set of books.