There are some things, after all, that Sally Owens knows for certain: Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can.
Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors of all time. If her name is on the cover of a book, I will read it, and I have yet to find a book of hers that I don’t love. Practical Magic is one of her classics, and I gave it a re-read this year in anticipation of Fall (this will definitely show up on my cozy fall reads list) and her new book, The Rules of Magic, a prequel to Practical Magic. Practical Magic is the perfect example of magical realism, and the number one book I recommend to people looking for something in that genre.
Some fates are guaranteed, no matter who tries to intervene.
Gillian and Sally are members of the Owens family, a Massachusetts family known for being surrounded by odd happenings. The sisters grew up being surrounded by rumors, fear from other kids, and a bit of fear from themselves over their own untrained powers. But while the entire town seems to be afraid of the Owens family, women still show up in the middle of the night to request magical help from Gillian and Sally’s aunts, and the sisters want no part of it. But even as they try to run away from their family (both literally and figuratively), they discover that their connection to magic and each other cannot be outrun.
Alice Hoffman is such a talented writer, and she knows how to bend the rules of the real world in just the right way. Sally and Gillian are relatable, even though they’re witches, and their world seems very real, even though magic reigns. And I don’t mean pointing a wand and yelling spells magic. The magic in this book (strange concoctions, incantations, herbs) is really a way to show that these women are special, and intuitive. Hoffman uses it as a way to show how women bond together in ways not everyone understands. This is a grownup fairy tale, but more along the lines of Grimm than Disney.
While some might consider this an escapist read, I really don’t. Yes, magic is woven into the story, but there is a real theme of survival as well. The sisters and their aunts have struggled with abuse, bullying, and never really being able to fit into society, yet they continue on. They keep finding ways to get around all that and to keep living, something I think most people can relate to. And Hoffman’s writing is so beautiful that you almost forget you’re reading about tragic situations.
If you like magical realism, you will love Practical Magic. If you’re not sure about it, or you don’t usually read this genre, give this one a try. I think there are enough connections to the “real” world and common threads running through it that you might love it as well!