This was the first of McLemore’s books I’ve read, and it ended up at the top of my personal ranking of finalists. It’s got drama, mystery, healing from personal trauma, and a fair bit of magic thrown in. Graciela, or Ciela, is sort of…a pastry witch. Remember Like Water for Chocolate? It’s kind of like that–Ciela can tell just by looking at someone which pastry from her aunt’s panaderia would be perfect for them. How cool is that? Answer: it’s awesome, and it’s made her aunt’s bakery somewhat of a local legend in San Juan Capistrano where they live. Unfortunately, something really bad happens to Ciela at a party, and that makes her lose her magic. Not only that, trees are disappearing from people’s yards, the Santa Ana winds are blowing, and bit by bit, her world is being invaded by shards of mirrored glass…and then she finds out that her classmate Lock was assaulted at that same party. Ciela remembers all too well what happened to her, but doesn’t want to face up to it; meanwhile, Lock has no memory of that night. But Ciela knows, and the longer she keeps her secrets inside, the stranger her world gets.
This retelling of The Snow Queen is a bit more in the realm of magical realism than traditional sci-fi or fantasy, which I’ll admit is not everyone’s taste—but I enjoyed this one. I loved that Ciela was a pastry witch, that she makes the ordinary extraordinary. The mirrored glass thing, at first, I thought might just be in her imagination; it definitely hovers in that uncertain ground between literal and metaphorical. But the real-life complications for Ciela and Lock were heartbreaking and intense, and I loved the details of the setting and her family (though it was interesting the Mission wasn’t mentioned at all, just the swallows.) Ciela’s pansexuality was well depicted, as was her identity as one of the few brown students at a mostly white school, and these create just the right amount of complications without dominating the story. Last but not least, the writing was beautiful–clear and vivid and atmospheric.