By Katy Goodwin-Bates
Laura Eve’s The Graces centers on a mysterious, enigmatic family and a girl who wants to be one of them. The eponymous Graces are beautiful, unobtainable, impossibly wealthy, and suspected of supernatural wrongdoing. Wait, come back! I know what you’re thinking and, yes, this does make it sound a bit like Twilight, but don’t worry, it isn’t. Really. Well, it’s not only like Twilight. Is that better?
The novel is narrated by River, who is new in town and desperate for excitement. She begins the story without revealing her given name, only adopting ‘River’ later under the supervision of the Graces, as they begin to wield their borderline-bad influence. Wait, come back! I know what you’re thinking; yes, this bit does sound a bit like Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman. It actually is, a little.
The supernatural mystery at the heart of the novel is witchcraft, with the whole town deeply suspicious of the Graces and the strange and catastrophic events they may or may not have engineered. River manages to be “adopted” by the Graces, and initiated into their peculiarly teenage brand of magic; it involves cutting class, wearing black, and chanting stuff. Yes, fine; it’s quite a bit like The Craft.
If The Graces is something of a patchwork of influences, its identity crisis is inevitable. is it a paranormal romance, focused on River’s crush on Fenrin Grace, floppy-haired older brother and school heart-throb? Or is it a psychological thriller about the danger of obsession and the intensity of friendships between teenage girls, with River soon entirely dependent on Summer, the youngest Grace, for company and the very basis of her identity? Or is it actually a twisted tale of unruly teens and revenge, with witchcraft just a metaphor for adolescent struggle? There’s no reason that it can’t be all these things, but The Graces moves from one genre to the next without much warning. It doesn’t necessarily preclude enjoyment, but it can leave the reader rather bewildered.
Was Thalia the most powerful Grace? She went to great lengths to be unknowable. She would forever dance out of your reach to maintain the glamour. I admired it, but I couldn’t like it. Summer was different. She had her set of masks and fronts she used to survive, like all of us, but there was something truer about her. Something more beautiful, despite Thalia’s obvious loveliness.
The Graces is full to bursting with yearning descriptions like this; I felt like I knew the dimensions of Thalia’s body better than I know my own by the time I finished reading. River is ostensibly attracted to Fenrin, but it’s fairly clear that the allure of the family is far greater; having seen her father move out in ambiguous circumstances before the novel begins, River is desperate for the acceptance and affection the Graces appear to offer, and she completely reinvents herself in an apparent attempt to fool them into thinking she’s one of them. I can see that the Graces would probably seem terribly appealing to a teenage girl, particularly one whose caricature of a bad mother proclaims, “I’m the best mother anyone could ask for,” while blithely ignoring her daughter for the duration of the book. To a savvy grown-up like myself (one who has clearly never been eager to belong to a seemingly cool but disinterested group. No, not me. Never.) the whole thing seems a little shallow.
All this, however, becomes irrelevant in the final quarter of The Graces, when everything goes completely bonkers and there are multiple twisty-turny bits, leading to an agreeably mad conclusion. Along with the actual moments of witchcraft which appear all too infrequently, this was the highlight of the book. I signed up for emo teen witches when I bought this so, inevitably, my favourite parts involved nonsensical chanting and burning dried herbs with tea lights. I tended to zone out ever so slightly any time the characters weren’t casting spells on floppy-fringed boys.
You may have gathered from this reasonably flippant review that I found The Graces a little silly, but it’s important to understand that, for the most part, it’s silly in an entertaining way. If, like me, you find yourself reading it in a slightly arch, let’s-spot-the-influences kind of fashion, you’ll have a good time. Don’t be expecting to learn any magic tricks, though; I’m pretty sure that they take more than black ribbons and a scowl.