It's that time of year where my reading generally turns to the spookier side, and there's no paranormal motif I love more than witchy women. Fiction has definitely seen an uptick in feminist reclamations of witchy tropes and depictions in recent years, and I am here for it.
When I first saw the publication announcement for Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft, I struggled to keep my expectations reasonable, certain it would be yet another teen fiction anthology that sounded amazing and would end up disappointing me with uneven story quality. But I was only so successful in tempering those expectations because October is the perfect time for a witchy story collection, dipped into a little bit here, a story there, sometimes with a hot mug of tea by my side and other times accompanied by a fresh apple cider donut, eaten carefully to avoid spilling sugar in my library book. And gradually, this book assured me that my hopes were warranted.
When I go into a short story collection, I look for a strong unifying theme with a clever range of interpretations. A short story collection about witches should be fiercely feminist, have a bit of bite, and leave me new interpretations of a classic archetype. Toil and Trouble accomplished all of these with flying colors, and frankly, it was more diverse than many other anthologies I've read.
The witches in these stories range from midwife's apprentices in colonial America to Instagram-savvy astrologers. They're straight girls nursing crushes on childhood best friends and queer girls who have had it with family legacies that try to tell the women whom they should love. They are misunderstood girls that make townspeople glance the other way when services are no longer required and steely women making it on their own in a hostile Wild West. They are witches in girl squads and witches with complicated family bonds and curses. They are witches growing into their powers and witches escaping the abusive situations that made them forget how strong they really are.
There wasn't a single dud of a story for me in this collection. The unifying theme was as strong as the women in its pages, with enough variations to keep things fresh. The authors' voices were strong and distinct, and the characters refreshingly diverse. When I pick up a witch-themed collection, this is what I hope to find. This is my standout YA short story collection.
And it's the perfect time of year to read it.