Debora Geary’s A Hidden Witch, the second book in her Modern Witch series, focuses on Elorie, a 26-year-old woman from a traditional witching family in Nova Scotia who is a talented witch mentor and a jewelry artist, but does not appear to have magic, despite her longing for such powers. This follow-up to A Modern Witch is another peek into a charming witching world, where our friends from the first book have either prominent roles or make guest appearances. For me, Geary focuses too heavily on the mechanics of a possible new type of magical power when Elorie’s personal development is the real beauty of this story. This is a novel about re-adjusting expectations when you don’t succeed, or, if you do, re-adjusting expectations when success doesn’t turn out to be the way you dreamed it would. This subject may resonate with young adults, whom we teach to reach for the stars, without necessarily teaching them how to land gracefully if they don’t quite make it. It’s a subject that may also resonate with parents.
As a mom raising three children (pictured above), this book reminded me of my own past failures and triumphs and has encouraged me to think more carefully about how I define success for my children. We all have different parenting styles, and several of them have made the news recently, from “Tiger Mom” to attachment parenting. I never read Amy Chua’s The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, but I did read an excerpt in the Wall Street Journal, where Chua describes what she believes is an aspect of western parenting:
I’ve noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children’s self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.
I’m not sure I would say that I’m a Western parent, having been influenced by my South Asian mother who has a parenting style that shares many commonalities with Tiger Mom, but I do care very deeply about my children’s self-esteem. Struggling with self-esteem is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of self-awareness. Everyone has struggled with their self-esteem at some point, and, as a parent, I want to do what I can to make sure that my children have the self-esteem and coping skills they need to deal with whatever life throws at them.
Geary’s A Hidden Witch addresses the same parenting issues, with Elorie coping with her perceived inadequacy and with Moira, Elorie’s grandmother, wondering whether she set her granddaughter up for failure. With the best of intentions, Moira may have imposed her wishes on her granddaughter, as Elorie remembers Gran telling her, “One day, you’ll sit in my garden and we’ll work magic together.” It didn’t exactly work out that way, and Moira laments, “I was so certain she would develop power that I wasn’t as careful as I might have been in helping her accept the alternatives.”
Obviously, there are differences between magical power in a fictional world and the talents and skills we develop in real life, but there are also similarities. Geary’s witches develop their power gradually and have varying degrees of magical ability. Magic in Geary’s world is not that different from the innate abilities some people have for music, language, or math (etc.) that they hone through lessons and practice. You could insist on your children playing cello, but only a few are truly virtuosos, and only a few will make a living entirely off of their musical abilities. As a result, I wouldn’t force music on my children (Tiger Mom recommends several hours of practice each day) unless they really loved it, and, even then, I would encourage them to keep an open mind to other possibilities. But that’s just my opinion, and I don’t subscribe to the belief that my parenting style is better than anyone else’s simply because it’s mine.
Geary’s book is a light read about a magical world that would appeal to a wide audience, particularly young adults and parents. It encouraged me to reflect on my own parenting style and on the style my parents employed when they were raising me, not at all a “light” topic. I recommend the book.*
*As stated above, A Hidden Witch is the second book in the series. I suggest readers start with the first book, A Modern Witch, and go from there.