All Our Hidden Gifts: With Great Power Comes Looking At Your Past, Present, And Future
Tarot stories are fun because they talk about how the cards don’t determine your fate. Instead, they can help you make better decisions about your present. When you toss in real magic into the mix along with research, then you get quite a story.
This story also takes a long hard look at what forgiveness is. It also determines that no one is obligated to forgive you for doing something horrible. That was a super refreshing theme to read, in the wake of the whole “hatred is the cup of poison that only you drink” saying that seems to be everywhere. After all, sometimes the poison is everywhere, waiting to spring in the form of violence. In this case, the violence comes with a dose of magic.
Trigger warnings: this book has mentions of weaponized homophobia, a bit of violence, and cult behavior.
All Our Hidden Gifts By Caroline O’Donoghue
Maeve is many things — a former friend to her “weird” classmate Lily, a hater of Italian verbs, and a decent cleaning person when she’s assigned to tidy up a closet as part of an in-school suspension. She disparagingly calls it the Chokey, after the iron maiden punishment in Matilda. After she nearly gets locked in the Chokey, Maeve finds an old deck of Tarot cards that she pockets when the Sister who forgot about her lets her out and apologizes. One YouTube tutorial layer and Maeve finds out that she is good at reading people’s fortunes for their present. Soon the local theater girl, Fiona, is serving as her Tarot manager and helping her schedule readings with the entire school. The Chokey becomes a miniature salon during lunch hours, with crystals and incense.
Just as Maeve settles in with the extra source of spending money, her classmates goad her to do a reading for Lily. She at first says it’s Lily’s choice, but eventually draws the cards. There is one whose meaning she doesn’t know, the Housekeeper. As she and Lily fight, Maeve wishes that the other girl would disappear. Soon she gets that wish, the police are involved, and Maeve worries that it’s the cards’ fault. Lily’s sibling Rory at first blames Maeve for the disappearance, before realizing that they can work together to get to the bottom of this mystery. They need to bring Lily back and fend off a charismatic cult leader that telegraphs his homophobia and dislike of rival witches.
That’s not the only problem, however, and the police aren’t necessarily the solution. Even though the school teachers confiscated the Tarot deck, Maeve finds it in her room again and decides that magic has to be involved. The Housekeeper card is gone, however, and with it the clue that may save Lily. Maeve needs to channel her inner power and face her past guilt, as well as her present unease, to bring back Lily and stop the cult leader from weaponizing hate against her loved ones.
The story tone is not necessarily one where you can skim it fast and that’s all good. You have to savor it, like some tea mixed in with strong bitters. I’ve never had tea with bitters, but I imagine that it’s no different from a regular cocktail. In either case, sip this story slowly and don’t forget to breathe so as to absorb all of the languages.
In terms of characters, Maeve toes the line between sympathetic and selfish. That is a good thing because we can follow her story and root for her even when she shows off her worst side, and celebrate her subsequent character development. The meanness is understandable since she’s a teenager that once cared about popularity. She teases her older sister about a cheating girlfriend and doesn’t have it in her to apologize to Lily about what happened all those years ago. Fiona even notes it when Maeve points out that Fiona could be nicer to her mother; she ought to be nicer to Joanna if for no other reason than it’s the decent thing to do.
Here is the SPOILER point. Do not read further if you want to be surprised on the rest of the book.
Roe, Lily’s sibling serves as the counterpoint. At first, they’re outed to their parents for being bisexual and that made things awkward. Roe also reveals they are genderfluid. That means different pronouns and a chance to try different looks, in an attempt to explore a new identity. Yet Roe has one thing Maeve doesn’t: confidence. They do regular music gigs and play guitars while taking steps out of the closet. After a group message outed them, Roe feels like they can survive anything since they lived through their parents’ disappointment. Thus they feel there is an answer to finding their sister. It’s just under their noses, and in the dreams that Maeve starts to have. The Housekeeper lingers, along with the local river, in her mind.
We have Fiona, budding actress and believer in the supernatural. She takes no nonsense and feels they need to go beyond regular detective work to find Lily. Fiona also has the introspection that Maeve lacks about how actions have consequences, and little deeds can bubble out like ripples in a pond. It may have to do with her aunt giving them a lead on the Housekeeper, via a song that’s mainly performed in the States. Or it’s that Fiona is used to standing out, without attracting the negative attention that Lily received.
Speaking of the States, things drastically change when Aaron rolls into town. American Aaron likes telling people they are immoral for being gay or selling nude statues. He also has a weird charisma that makes people want to love him, even when they sense he is bad news. Soon teenagers and young adults are attending meetings and posting on Facebook. Maeve considers him a red herring until Joanna gets involved. Then all bets are off. She wants to find a way to fix her mistake of inviting magic into her life to hurt Lily and cause an imbalance.
Of course, it isn’t that simple. For one, Aaron is fascinated by how Maeve has protection from him, and that she showed up to his meeting. It turns out he may know more about the spiritual world than he reveals to his followers. Also, the fear and insecurities that he prays on are very real, from a sense of not belonging to thinking people refuse to understand you or that you don’t understand different lifestyles. Aaron is scary because we’ve seen him before. He’s every conservative preacher that wants LGBTQ people dead and considers disasters a divine punishment. The Housekeeper has rules and loopholes that humans can use, and is more reasonable than she appears. Aaron is human and doesn’t have any rules that can bind him. I had to skip some of the scenes with him because they were too creepy and close to home.
Overall, All Our Hidden Gifts will shed a light on uncomfortable truths. That’s why you need to read it slowly, along with the Tarot and the rituals to restore lost friends. We have to look into a mirror to see how our actions help or hurt others. Learning how the world really is can also help us face its injustices better. When there is an Aaron in the world, we need courage like Maeve and Roe to face him and take away his power. It also helps to know how to interpret our present, in preparation of our future.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.