When it comes to the perfect autumnal read, atmosphere is everything. This is the season for stories filled with darkness and secrecy; the season for evocative settings and bewitching magic. Adrienne Young’s debut adult novel, Spells for Forgetting, has all that and more. From the wild island setting and the whispers of witchcraft that weave through the tale, to the unsolved death that haunts the characters at the heart of the book, this is a story that’s infused with the mystical spirit of autumn.
The inhabitants of the remote Pacific Coast island of Saoirse have always been a tight-knit community, their quiet existence built on a foundation of folklore and tradition. But everything changed the night Lily Morgan died. Accused of Lily’s murder, August Salt fled the island with his mother, leaving his girlfriend, Emery Blackwood, heart-broken. With Lily dead and August gone, Emery shouldered the town’s suspicion and blame. But when August returns after fourteen years to bury his mother’s ashes, the past comes rushing back to meet them both.
Emery might have stayed on Saoirse but her heart left the moment August did. Her life has been frozen in time for over a decade and August’s arrival stirs up all the unresolved feelings she could never let go of. Yet whilst Emery is conflicted about August’s return, the rest of the town isn’t. They want him gone before his presence causes any more harm. As the seasons change and strange happenings start to occur, the islanders are prepared to take matters into their own hands to make sure August Salt disappears once again – perhaps even for good.
I closed my eyes, trying to replace the images with new ones. The view of the sea on windy days or the boats in the harbor. But everything skipped back to August, as if he was intrinsically tied to everything. For so long, he was.”
Spells for Forgetting is a multiple perspective novel exploring both Emery and August’s POVs, as well as sporadic chapters that give glimpses into the thoughts and memories of the influential townsfolk that control the island. Whilst constantly shifting viewpoints can sometimes take readers away from the central characters of a book, here it only adds to the secretive, mysterious undertone of the story. Emery and August are the heart and soul of the novel, but there’s a real sense that they’re never alone. The island is always watching them. Whether it’s the island itself, which is ruled by the seasons, or the meddling locals, who’ll do anything to protect the secrets of the past, there isn’t anyone on Saoirse who thinks it’s a good idea for Emery and August to reunite. Except, perhaps, Emery and August themselves.
As the novel’s central two characters confront their personal and shared trauma, there’s another strand to the story that everything hinges on: the disturbing death of Lily Morgan. Young weaves an intriguing and twisty mystery into her novel, posing a string of clues, questions and red herrings that readers must pull apart and piece back together. Did August actually kill Lily? Who else might have played a part in her death? What or who are the islanders really trying to protect? On an isolated island steeped in superstition, trust isn’t easily earned but it’s very easily lost. It’s something August realised the hard way all those years ago, and something Emery starts to understand as the truth of Lily’s death begins to unravel.
If you’ve read any of Adrienne Young’s YA novels, you’ll be familiar with her effortlessly atmospheric and lyrical writing. Spells for Forgetting feels even more affecting and immersive, blending magic and slow burn romance with the kind of evocative descriptions that brings Saoirse to life in all its beauty and ugliness. It really is the epitome of an autumn novel – one to be read curled up under a blanket as the trees rustle outside. And if the trees aren’t rustling, you’ll be able to hear them anyway thanks to Adrienne Young’s enchanting ability to transport readers into the wind and sea swept island of her story.
Spells for Forgetting is published by Quercus on 27 September 2022