Ride or Die, Witches: When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey Review

Prom is a magical, life-altering night—something every high schooler knows to be true. Enter: Alexis, high school senior, trying to make her best friend / crush jealous by sleeping with a boy she barely knows. Remember that thing about prom changing your life? If she had any doubts, they’re gone, along with an easy end to senior year, when she accidentally kills him. She made his penis explode. Literally. But let’s back up.

Alexis is magic. She and her five best friends have been hiding their incredible powers—powers they don’t really understand—for years. It’s the thing that brought them all together. And tonight, it’s the thing that’s going to lead them down a path that will involve dangerous spells, lying to the police, and disposing of a dead body.

Would your best friends help bury a body? Alexis doesn’t even have to ask. These girls are the definition of ride or die.

While the girls each dispose different pieces of the body, Alexis tries to come to grips with the things she’s done and the danger she’s placed all her friends in. The consequences of the spell they cast on prom night in an attempt to hide the body begins to steal things from each of them. As each body part is destroyed, they lose pieces of themselves: the ability to cry or dream. Her friends might do anything for her, but Alexis isn’t sure she deserves it—especially after killing someone. But bottling up her feelings was what got her into this bloody mess in the first place, and the more she tries to pretend she’s fine, the more her powers lash out, hurting herself and others.

This book might sound like your typical teen witch fare, but the truth is, the magic itself is almost incidental. Their powers add a fun twist, sure, but the story could function without them. The true magic of Gailey’s novel isn’t in the powers these girls possess, but the unbreakable bond between them. This is a story of friendship more than anything and the incredible bond women share. It’s something incredibly powerful. As someone who’s been blessed with several lifelong best girl friends, it’s really heartwarming to see that relationship depicted in fiction. And silly as it may seem, there’s a reason people always joke about which friends would help you hide a dead body. That’s the definition of true friendship.

There aren’t many books that can say the entire cast of six main characters are all women / nonbinary. This book can. Because why tell the story of just two best girl friends when you could tell the story of six? It’s turning girl power up to max. And the fact that it’s got a magical twist? Just the cherry on top.

It’s also wonderfully queer—something I love about all of Gailey’s writing. Alexis’s crush on her best friend, Roya, and Paulie’s explorations of her gender identity, aren’t the central crux of the story, but they’re there. Just a part of life, like anything else.

Mild spoilers ahead:

Alexis comes out to her dads as bisexual at the same time she comes out as having magic powers. The two are equally important aspects of her identity. Like her magical powers, her sexuality is an important part of the story—her desire to make Roya jealous the reason she wanted to sleep with a boy she barely knew in the first place—but never treated as the only or most important aspect of her life. After all, she is coming to terms with being a murderer, accidental or not. That normalization of lgbtq identity is so refreshing and something I crave more and more in the stories I seek out.

Gailey’s writing is always standout whether they’re writing about hippos in the American South, a detective at a magic school, or six teenage girls trying to hide a dead body and navigate the complexities of high school. The characters and the relationships between them are always at the heart of the story, and that, more than anything, is what makes Gailey’s work so relatable. No matter what alternate histories, dystopian futures, or magical presents they’re exploring, you can always find real people at the heart of them.

I think it’s safe to say I’m here for anything and everything Gailey writes in the future. (Yes, I’m talking about you, fascist-fighting, queer librarians in Upright Women Wanted.) So, what do you say? Looking for your next favorite author? Let me introduce you to a teen witch named Alexis…

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