This week’s Biblioshelf Musings is All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue. I would like to thank NetGalley and the publishers, Walker Books, for providing me with an e-ARC in exchange for my honest review.
This book completely had me at the word ‘tarot’. I’ve always been intrigued by the art and origins of tarot reading so having a spooky deck of cards as the centrepiece for a novel really hooked me into the story and seemed quite different to other tropes/plot drivers that I’ve read about recently. Combined with a diverse band of main characters and set against a backdrop of Irish politics, this YA novel gave me plenty to enjoy.
Book: All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue
Genre: Teens / YA
Publication Date: 27th May 2021
Publisher: Walker Books
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
Maeve Chambers doesn’t have much going for her. Not only does she feel like the sole idiot in a family of geniuses, she managed to drive away her best friend Lily a year ago. But when she finds a pack of dusty old tarot cards at school, and begins to give scarily accurate readings to the girls in her class, she realizes she’s found her gift at last. Things are looking up – until she discovers a strange card in the deck that definitely shouldn’t be there. And two days after she convinces her ex-best friend to have a reading, Lily disappears.
Can Maeve, her new friend Fiona and Lily’s brother Roe find her? And will their special talents be enough to bring Lily back, before she’s gone for good?
All Our Hidden Gifts centres around our main character Maeve who finds a mysterious deck of tarot cards (along with a working cassette walkman) whilst she’s on detention at her all-girls Catholic school St. Bernadettes. For someone who isn’t that academic, Maeve finds it surprising easily to grasp the rules of tarot reading and begins hosting sessions for the girls at her school. Upon the strange appearance of an eerie ‘Housekeeper’ card and the mysterious vanishing of her former best friend Lily, Maeve embarks on a journey with sidekicks Roe and Fiona to try and solve the mystery of Lily’s disappearance. On their way, they uncover peculiar happenings in their small Irish town and get drawn into the conflicting politics of religion, pride and magic.
I loved the presence of the tarot cards as a key driver in this novel – I’ve always had some kind of magical fascination with them and the way the peculiar Housekeeper card has such an impact on Maeve’s life was gripping, I’m just so pleased that I haven’t found a Housekeeper card in my own tarot deck because that would definitely freak me out!
Maeve is such a young and honest lead. Whilst some of her choices are a little naive or questionable, particularly friendship-wise, I like the honesty in which she confronts her actions. Caroline’s portrayal of Maeve seems so authentic to that young, teenage girl going-through-the-motions-of-high-school that I really bought into her as a character and as someone who also went to an all-girls school.
The supporting characters complement Maeve really well. Roe’s exploration of his sexuality and expression of identity was refreshing and poignant in the way it related to some of the more political conflicts going on around the main storyline. Fiona’s Asian influences also drew a unique parallel with both Maeve’s and Roe’s experiences. Their diversity added a great deal of depth to the storyline whilst also helping Maeve to see the true values and meanings of friendship.
The magical element of the plot goes beyond just the tarot deck. Amongst the talk of otherworldly dimensions and summonings of spirits, Maeve’s experiences with homemade spells and witchcraft keep this element of the story quite realistic and believable without straying too far into the realms of complete fantasy. As Maeve discovers why she has such an affinity with the tarot deck, we start to understand a little more about her powers and tie up some of the looser ends within the story.
What I really enjoyed about this story was the way the author addresses some of the more political and controversial attitudes of Irish society. In our modern world of freedom, self-expression and pride, we can sometimes forget the ongoing struggles people face while trying to be their authentic selves in communities which are still devoutly conservative or religious. Whilst this forms a central part of the narrative for Roe’s character, O’Donoghue communicates this sensitively – raising awareness without giving too much of a historical/political narrative. Her tone is in-keeping with the rest of the novel and subtly gives the reader something to think about without going beyond the Teens/YA audience barrier. The Irish representation is something I haven’t experienced before in stories within this genre so it added to my enjoyment of the novel.
I have a special mention of adoration for the part of the narrative centring around Sister Assumpta and her decrepit VW Beetle. I hate spoilers so I won’t really mention it here but the presence of this in the story and the discoveries Maeve makes in that little car kept me flipping page after page to get to the bottom of those curiosities!
Overall, All Our Hidden Gifts is ultimately the book which broke me out of my reading slump. I loved the tarot element and the friendship between Maeve, Roe and Fiona. It was magical without being overly fantastical and is fitting of its ‘Teen/YA’ age bracket, although I personally feel this fits into the younger side of the YA genre. Roe’s character gave me food-for-thought and the backdrop of Irish sensitivities brought a new representation to my reading diet. News has it that there’s a follow-up novel planned. Whilst I’m left feeling contented about the ending of All Our Hidden Gifts, it will be really fascinating to see where O’Donoghue takes this story next.
Why Should I Read This?
For the tarot element and the creepy Housekeeper card (think the creature from The Grudge with the Grim from Harry Potter).
For an original fantasy set in the backdrop of Irish politics and conservatism.
For a band of diverse characters who help each other to bring out the best in themselves.