I recently listened to The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman, a teen/YA novel, on audio. For the most part, it is a realistic novel about teens struggling with love, loss, and friendship…but with a significant twist: magic.
The world that Ari lives in is exactly like ours, with one exception: the existence of hekamists, who cast spells. Although hekame is now illegal and many covens have been disbanded, hekamists still exist, trained in the spell-casting arts by their mothers and grandmothers, quietly accepting cash and making up spells that reside in food or drinks for their customers to ingest. People visit hekamists for spells for love, beauty, changes in fortune, and all kinds of other reasons.
As the novel opens, Ari, who just finished her junior year of high school, is covertly visiting the local hekamist in Cape Cod, where she lives with her aunt. She wants a spell to make her forget her boyfriend, Win, who died five days earlier. The pain is so intense that Ari asks for a powerful spell that will make her forget Win completely and permanently. The hekamist warns Ari that all spells come with a cost; a beauty spell might make you less smart, for instance. Although Ari assures the hekamist she’s never had a spell before, it’s clear to the reader that she’s lying because she keeps thinking about a pain in her wrist that she attributes to another spell ten years ago.
Ari’s best friends are Diana and Kay, but Ari keeps her spell secret even from them. The narrative flashes back to five months earlier, where we see the three girls living a carefree, typical teen life – going to school and parties, hanging out together, having fun. Ari is completely committed to ballet and plans to move to NYC after high school, Diana loves horseback riding and is planning to go to a horse camp for the summer, and Kay makes no secret of the fact that she has had a beauty spell.
Win is Ari’s boyfriend, and his best friend is Markos, who comes from a large family of brothers who run the local hardware store with their mother. One day after baseball practice, Markos stops to talk to the local hekamist’s teen daughter, Echo, about a special spell for he, Win, and Ari. He and his brothers are having their annual beach party the next day, and he wants to do something special for the three of them.
The narrative moves back and forth in time and from one character’s perspective to another. It can get kind of confusing at times, though it’s probably easier to keep track of when reading the book rather than listening to it on audio. The other complication is the spells themselves. Not everyone is as open as Kay about having had spells cast on them, so there are some surprises here, as the reader gradually finds out who has had spells, why, and what their consequences were. As the hekamist tells Ari in the opening chapter, all spells have costs.
I enjoyed this thoroughly unique and complex story. It’s unusual because yes, there are spells and magic in this world, but otherwise, it is a realistic, contemporary teen novel about the real challenges that typical teens struggle with in our everyday world. The difference is that they often try to resolve their problems with magic, with unforeseen consequences. The audio production was well done, read by Sharmila Devar, and I enjoyed the intricate web of cause and effect that kept me guessing, revealing its secrets one by one.