In Review: When My Heart Was Wicked

Protagonist Lacy is likable, until she goes off on one of her many magical memories.

When My Heart Was Wicked by Tricia Stirling

Published by Scholastic, February 24, 2015. Jacketed hardcover of 192 pages at $17.99. Ebook also available. Intended for ages 14 and up, grades 9 and up.

Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may change by publication.

The cover: A beautiful profile/bust shot of Lacy graces the cover. The image is very fluid, with her hair changing into a flock of crows, the bottom sprouting several varieties of gorgeous flowers, and a lone white owl flies before her, having taken off from a lone tree. The art is by Murilo Maciel, with the design of the jacket by Jeannine Riske. This is one of the best covers I’ve seen Scholastic produce. Exceptionally well done. Overall grade: A+

The premise: From the front of the inside jacket cover, “I used to be one of those girls. The kind who loved to deliver the bad news. I stole my stepmother’s lipstick to make fake potions that I fed to my dolls. I put sugar syrup in her perfume so she’d be followed by bees and wasps. But that was the old Lacy. Now, when I cast spells, they are always for good. Sixteen-year-old Lucy knows that magic and science can work side by side. She’s a botanist who knows all about the healing power of plants. Yet even that isn’t enough to save her father. After he dies, Lacy is desperate to stay in Chico, where her magic is good and healing. She fears the darkness that her mother, Cheyenne, brings out in her, stripping away everything that is light and kind. However, when Cheyenne arrives to whisk Lacy away, Lacy is helpless to resist. Before long, the ‘old’ Lacy resurfaces under Cheyenne’s influence. She colors her hair and imagines the black dye pooling into her veins, turning her insides murky. Poisonous words form on her tongue. But when Lacy survives a traumatic encounter, she finds herself faced with a choice. Will she use her powers to exact revenge and spiral into the darkness forever? Or will she find the strength to embrace the light?” The last six sentences of this teaser spoil too much of the plot. It should have stopped after her being “helpless to resist.” Having looked at the cover and read this, I found myself interested to see what would happen to Lacy and what her magical abilities are. Overall grade: B

The characters: Lacy Fin was a very engaging character. She’s a fish out of water, taken from her happy life in Chico and forced to live with her mother in Sacramento. This puts her into a new group of classmates, and some are friends, while others are foes. I liked how Stirling told the story in Lacy’s voice; this made what happened to her more believable. I like that she had two people to turn to, one a very old friend and the other a friend of her mother’s. Lacy’s hardships had me rooting for her to overcome her difficulties, and I wanted her to be happy after all that life had thrown at her. She encounters a very timely problem brought on by a classmate, and I really liked the way Stirling had several characters comment on it. The other main character of the novel is her mother Cheyenne, who is the antagonist. She separated from Lacy’s father years ago, and Lacy has been very happy without her. Drugs and suicide are raised in his character’s past, and she may not have escaped them entirely. Her attitude and speech justify Lacy’s reluctance to trust her, and every time she appears she brings with her uncertainty for Lacy and readers. There is a wildly unbelievably moment in her past that Lacy was witness to that is explained too neatly in the end. I’m expecting Lacy to be seeing a therapist for the rest of her life, based on what Cheyenne has done with her. Both mother and daughter believe that they have magical abilities, but Stirling leaves it to the reader to decide if they do. Each time their abilities came forward all I could see was more time spent on a psychologist’s couch at a future date. Beckoning Lacy to Chico is her stepmother Anna, who is a rural hippie raising Lacy off the land. Her home is a paradise for the girl and her phone calls only make Lacy’s heart ache more. There are several students that make up the rest of the cast list, and they fall into the typical, expected school types: the Romeo, the snobby girl, her flock, etc. I enjoyed Lacy, but whenever she discussed her magical prowess it didn’t endear her to me, but pushed me from her. Overall grade: B

The settings: Having been to both locations, Chico and Sacramento in California, Stirling’s descriptions were spot on. Chico is a rural area, with a landscape to get lost in. I enjoyed Anna’s house and wanted to spend more time there, but it was created to show how good a life Lacy had until she was taken from it. I could smell the plants and feel the warm, inviting sun. Sacramento was an urban environment, and Cheyenne’s house was part of the cookie cutter culture of home building, though the color of its interiors are an immediate warning sign to Lacy and readers. This element of the book was well done. Overall grade: A

The action: The conflicts between Lacy and her mother and her friends generate the action of the novel. With so many warning signs about her mother, told through memories or current events, her mother’s actions became predictable, and the tension evaporated. As stated earlier, there is one over the top episode in their past that I could not believe. Much more realistic is what occurs between Lacy and a peer. That was a very tense situation, but peaks at just over the half way point and ends. This puts the focus back on mom and magic, which left me cold. Overall grade: C

The conclusion: Chapter 15 begins the climax of the novel and it didn’t sit well with me. Magic is an element and has mother and daughter doing and saying ridiculous things. I tried to picture what the conclusion would look and sound like and it seemed like a bad soap opera. Where Lacy ends up isn’t really in doubt, but before she gets there I had checked out. Overall grade: D

The final line: This is the story of a girl trying to adapt to a new, unwelcome environment. There is implied fantasy, but none truly exists. I would have preferred author Stirling make the magic real, rather than it be the irrational ramblings of two characters in desperate need of intervention. This is a shame, because Lacy is so likable, until she goes off on one of her many magical memories. Overall grade: C+

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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