Bras and Broomsticks (Magic in Manhattan #1), by Sarah Mlynowski

When I was twelve years old, traveling with my family in Florida over spring break, a pastel-colored book cover with a broomstick and an off-catching title, Bras and Broomsticks, caught my eye. The title sounded similar to an old Disney musical I’d seen called Bedknobs and Broomsticks, so this new material, while obviously vastly different, was easy to attach to. Although, I was less interested in the book’s pastel, teeny-bopper mid-2000s aesthetic and more in that this story was about teenage witches.

And let me remind you: at twelve years old, I was OBSESSED with teen witch material. So, I sat on a pool chair at my grandparents’ getaway home and was instantly under this book’s spell. So much so that I think I reread it at least two dozen times throughout my adolescence.

Rachel Weinstein gets the shock of her life when she learns that both her younger sister, Miri, and their divorced mom, are witches. Miri has just come into her powers and begins training. But Rachel, being quite the superficial fourteen-year-old, has devious plans for Miri’s magic. Not only can Miri cast a spell to launch Rachel right into her New York City high school A-list crowd, but she can also use magic to get rid of their father’s high-maintenance, stuck-up fiance.

I remember wanting to be Miri so bad when I first read this book. So badly that I actually wrote a whole spiral notebook full of spells so I could awaken my own magic powers. Not to mention all the teenage witch fiction that is now lying dormant in some basement-dwelling hardware drive.

I enjoyed this book the same way I enjoyed a lot of mid-2000s Disney Channel shows. They were exaggerated pieces of comedy where fashion was a vastly complicated ordeal (especially for the girls), cliques created a universally acknowledged hierarchy, and taking your crush to the homecoming dance was THE most important accomplishment. I saw the appeal of those quirky outfits and the fairy tale of making your crush your dance date, but I could also sense the grander, underlying fantasy. Sure, it all looked fun, but was it true to life? Absolutely not. But gosh darn it, it was such entertaining escapism.

Bras and Broomsticks is one of my earliest examples of literary escapism. Whenever I needed something familiar, I returned to Rachel and Miri’s magical shenanigans, imagining myself as a modern teenage witch.

It’s also the book where I first learned about certain adult things. Nothing too scandalous, but, you know, things that a teenager should know at some point.

Rachel is a perfectly serviceable young adult chick lit protagonist. She is a Star Wars and math nerd trying to rebrand herself as a popular A-list girl but is also a little selfish and stubborn. She is pretty much what Dylan from Geek Charming should have been. Rachel is flighty and selfish, but at least she is not as clingy or full-on delusional. 

Beneath the potions and spells, though, there’s a melancholy undertone of Rachel and Miri watching their family crumble apart. Their dad is marrying a woman they don’t particularly like, and it’s obvious that their mom still pines for him. There’s even the implication that their dad cheated with his new fiance, which rightfully hits Rachel and Miri hard.

I did forget about the part where Miri can suggest things to other people, like make them think they heard a phone ring or thought a certain thought. That’s a surprisingly dark power for a twelve-year-old to have that this book doesn’t acknowledge. There’s already themes of divorce and self-esteem issues, so why not go the extra mile talking about magical ethics too?

I don’t know. Maybe such a heavy topic would have been out of place, but acknowledging it, even in a joking sort of way, makes sense.

It’s probably telling that I read this book way more than the others in the series. But it’s also telling that I can at least remember the series as a whole more than a decade later. So let’s not waste time. It’s spooky season, so let’s keep the witchy reading coming!

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