REVIEW: “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow

Review of Alix E. Harrow “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies”, Apex Magazine 105 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

It turns out that most librarians are secretly witches. They can smell what kind of book you need, and intuit the size of your fine from the slope of your shoulders. Our narrator isn’t just a witch and a librarian: she’s someone who cares about her patrons. So when a black teenage boy comes in with waves of yearning billowing off him, she does everything she can to help. But how far will she go?

The whimsical premise caught my attention, but the emotional depth captured my heart. Why do we read? To fill holes in our souls, obviously. To escape from circumstances that have become unbearable. I’ve always been a proponent of the holy power of escape, so I was tickled to see this story directly challenging those who look down upon it.

This story is about more than just the power of reading (I know: there’s nothing “just” about the power of reading, but bear with me). It’s also about rules, and when to break them. The narrator shows us how to do it, too: with joy and conviction. She knows that the consequences are worth it – not just for the sake of the kid she’s helping, but for her own sake, as well.

Highly recommended for anybody interested in the healing power of stories.

REVIEW: “A Whisper in the Weld” by Alix E. Harrow

Review of Alix E. Harrow, “A Whisper in the Weld”, Podcastle 487 — Listen Online. Reviewed by Heather Rose Jones

I have to confess, this story had me good-crying in my car during the commute. Ghosts aren’t supposed to stick around very long unless they have something very important to do. Wartime creates a lot of ghosts, and our usual definition of heroism doesn’t take into account all the terrible things that desperation or simple need drives people to. All Isa wanted to do was to raise her daughters right and see her husband again when the war was over. Working in the steel mill wasn’t about being a hero, it was about surviving. There was nothing heroic in her death, only in the desperate need that kept her lingering on with a mission to fulfill. I loved the voice and imagery in this story as it pieced together Isa’s past and made me believe that her ghost could inhabit the machinery that killed her. The ending was so perfect and fitting. This is a powerful story about how people survive–one way or another–despite the crushing weight of oppression.

(Originally published 2014 in Shimmer.)