Publication: August 28th 2018
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 480 pages
Genre: Fiction, Short Story, Anthology, YA, Paranormal
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤
“You understand the truth, though, don’t you? The most terrifying thing in the world is a girl with power. That’s why they watch us burn,” (“Why They Watch Us Burn, May, Elizabeth 392).
This anthology has been popping up on my bookstagram for quite a while and as a lover of all things witchy and feminist and anything that combines the two, I was excited to get my hands on it. I remember reading a lot of paranormal YA anthologies when I was in high school and was excited to see how much they’ve changed since then
Toil & Trouble as a whole is not a bad anthology, but a lot of times it’s predictable. I could guess where many of the stories were going from the first page, but it didn’t make reading of them any less enjoyable, just a bit boring. It was nostalgic in a lot of ways to read stories with a lot of the same themes that I loved as a teen combined with ones I’ve become more interested in as an adult. And though many of the stories were predictable and some of them very similar to one another (including some lines which was weird) the diversity was amazing! When I was in high school anthologies, and YA in general, was incredibly heteronormative, white, and privileged (and many can argue it still is, though there is some change happening) and seeing this anthology feature characters of so many different backgrounds and identities (racial, religious, gender, and sexuality) was phenomenal, especially with how normal it all was. There was no reason for any of the characters to come out, no reason to fight against racism, the characters identities were a normal and accepted part of their stories, and we need more stories that normalize these things.
I enjoyed the second half of the anthology much more than the first half, though the first half wasn’t bad of course. The first half of the anthology deals with stories with arguably simpler story themes: friendship, judgement, love, loss, and fear. And there were some larger themes in these stories too, most notably highlights about race especially in “The Truth About Queenie” by Brandy Colbert, but the stories in the first half of the anthology generally ended on a lighter note filled with hope, and feeling almost fairy tale. Not bad, and definitely something I would have loved as a teen, but I’m a different reader now and was much more drawn to the stories in the second half that were darker and angrier, filled with pain and vengeance and finding powers. Highlights include “The Legend of Stone Mary” by Robin Talley, “The One Who Stayed” by Nova Ren Suma, “Daughters of Baba Yaga” by Brenna Yovanoff (Brenna Yovanoff you are one of my author kindred spirits I swear it!), “Beware the Girls with Crooked Mouths” by Jessica Spotswood, and “The Gherin Girls” by Emery Lord. Okay, so that’s almost half of the anthology, but all those stories were really good!
Toil & Trouble is an enjoyable and fun read that is both relaxing and motivating depending on the story. It’s a welcome anthology to YA and a beautiful example of the diversity we need in the genre. A perfect book to end October with!