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Closer than Sisters: a guest post by author Sasha Laurens

A WICKED MAGIC is about Dan and Liss, closer-than-sisters best friends who’ve transformed themselves into witches. As the book begins, we learn three things about them: one, just after Dan had her first kiss with a boy named Johnny, Liss began dating him; two, Johnny’s missing; and three; Dan and Liss aren’t speaking. If that has you expecting a story about heartbreak, you’re dead-on. But if you’re expecting that heartbreak to be about Johnny, you’ve got something else coming.

In writing A WICKED MAGIC, I wanted to show how friendships can be a lot messier, more complicated and harder to navigate than romantic relationships. That was certainly my experience in high school and college. In fact, the conflict between Dan and Liss over Johnny is based on something that happened to me: my best friend really did start dating the boy I’d had my first kiss with a few weeks earlier. At the time, I was more confused than angry. After all, my friend had invested a lot of energy in trying to make sure the boy and I ended up together. But she’d wanted a boyfriend a lot more than I had, so I reconciled myself to their relationship because she deserved it more than me. I didn’t realize at the time that was the first crack in our friendship. When it finally collapsed months later, I felt used and disrespected by the person I’d been closest to. That heartbreak hurt a lot more than the fact that I hadn’t held the boy’s interest.

But when I looked at young adult fiction, I rarely saw stories about these confusing, formative and painful kinds of friendships. Often, the central relationship in YA is a romantic one—which can be great! But often this means that in these stories, relationships with friends are set up so they’re not a source of tension. Instead, the best friend plays a supporting role, cheering on the main character role as she pursues her crush (and saves the kingdom, wins prom queen, etc.).

In the real world, not all friendships are so perfect. Our best friends have the power to delight us or destroy us, to lift us up or to make us small, to make us feel like we belong or like no one will ever understand us. And all of that unfolds between two people who will probably never communicate about what they want from the relationship the way romantic partners do, because friendship is supposed to be easy, right?

The relationship at the core of A WICKED MAGIC is not a romance: it’s the broken bond between Dan and Liss. Both girls have struggled with trauma and guilt over Johnny’s disappearance, and that strain proved too great for their friendship to bear. Dan is left feeling that Liss took advantage of her, because she couldn’t stand up to Liss’s take-no-prisoners personality. When Dan stops speaking to her, Liss faces the dangerous task of rescuing Johnny alone. The girls have to confront the role they each played in their toxic friendship if they want to have any hope of saving Johnny—or of finding their way to happiness.

I admit that when I started writing, there was more than a little pathos in play. Poor innocent Dan was the stand-in for me, and Liss was the charismatic mean girl who embodied all the friends who had hurt me. In that first draft, I wanted there to be a palpable feeling that Dan was probably better off without Liss, who needed Dan more than she’d realized. I had no idea how—or even if—they were going to end up friends again by the final chapter.

The more I wrote, however, the more it seemed that Dan saw herself as a helpless victim, who was unaware of the pain she’d caused to others. That sense of victimization wasn’t just stopping her from getting over her break-up with Liss, it was also stopping her from doing all she could to rescue Johnny and from facing her own problems, including her depression. While teenage-me had never let a boy get kidnapped by a demon, it hit close to home. 

But A WICKED MAGIC isn’t just told from Dan’s perspective. The story includes Liss’s point of view too (and that of Dan’s new best friend, Alexa). That meant I had to spend a lot of time in Liss’s head. At first, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to connect with her; after all, she was based on my frenemies. But as I wrote from Liss’s perspective, I found myself sympathizing—and even identifying—with her. She had definitely wronged Dan, but it wasn’t intentional. She was working through her own problems, like anxiety, an emotionally abusive mother, and an absent father. Those problems weren’t so different from those my friends had faced—or from problems I had faced, for that matter. Suddenly, it didn’t seem fair that on top of all that, Dan expected Liss to take care of her, when Dan could barely admit her what she needed to herself, let alone confess it aloud to Liss.

Ultimately, I realized that both girls bore responsibility for the failure of their friendship. More than that, they hurt each other for the same reason: they’re both desperately unhappy, for reasons that feel beyond their control. That pain leads them to treat other people, as well as themselves, poorly. Recognizing that was the key that would allow them to forgive each other and move on—or even become friends again.

I still think about that high school best friend, the one who dated the boy who gave me my first kiss. I haven’t been in touch with her for years. I wonder what she would think of Dan and Liss, and if she’d see us in their story. I wish I had understood back then that none of us are born knowing how to be perfect friends. It’s something we learn from each person who comes into our lives. But learning always entails mistakes. If we want to move forward, we have to face those mistakes with compassion for ourselves and others.

SASHA LAURENS grew up in Northern California, where she learned to drive on Highway 1’s switchback turns and got accustomed to the best weather in the world. After studying creative writing and literature at Columbia University, she lived in New York for years and, at various times, in Russia. She currently resides in Michigan, where she is pursuing a PhD in political science. A Wicked Magic is her first novel (Razorbill, July 2020).

Links:

www.sashalaurens.com 

https://www.instagram.com/sashalwrites/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48675479-a-wicked-magic?ac=1&from_search=true

https://bookshop.org/books/a-wicked-magic/9780593117255

Pre-orders can request free AWM stickers here: https://www.sashalaurens.com/pre-order-campaign

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