The Gifts That Bind Us: A spellbinding follow-up as the group of friends reconnects with the cult

Wise, often funny and utterly spellbinding, the second installment in Caroline O’Donoghue’s young adult series, All Our Hidden Gifts, is a coming-of-age read for all witches-in-training.

The gifts that bind us focuses on Maeve Chambers and her powerful group of friends, Fiona, Roe and Lily. Their wonderful summer spent practicing their new magical skills is cut short as a dark power once again rumbles beneath the town of Kilbeg. Just when they thought they’d seen the last of Brigid’s children – the right-wing religious group that haunted the gang last year – the cult returns and is focused on extinguishing the powers of Maeve and her friends. As tensions rise, who can Maeve trust when nothing is as it seems?

Deceptively accessible given the dark issues it tackles, the novel tackles uncomfortable topics and threats to Gen Z and the world at large. Dealing with all the classic teenage themes of isolation, sex, feeling different and even self-sabotage with a wonderfully realistic and down-to-earth approach, O’Donoghue refuses to condescend to his audience.

It is with a light hand that she sketches this period of transition and self-identification, capturing the dread of making what we think of as life-altering choices at 17. a path less traveled with Maeve conflicted and lost, the author critiques society’s pressure to define herself, emphasizing the ability to change as a gift, not a failure. She dwells on this period of choice and consequence in adolescence; a period that can often feel like the end of the world when in reality it is just beginning.

Like Deirdre Sullivan and Sarah Maria Griffin, O’Donoghue brings his own stamp to the growing trend of recent years, not just in YA stories but in Gen Z culture: witchcraft. From reading palms to grasping crystals, a kind of white magic rather than occultism takes on the role of giving meaning to a whole new generation.

The novel is filled with strange coincidences and inexplicable events: “Moving statues… A group of women who all have twins. Houses where things keep disappearing, even when you’ve just put your coat down, right there. Some cultures are better at recognizing these things than others. Most of them use religion as an explanation, which is fine and healthy, if you’re into that kind of stuff.

Witchcraft

O’Donoghue’s position is clear as she juxtaposes the magical protagonists with the manipulative, violent and heteronormative Brigid children. The novel presents us throughout with a general pairing: the extreme religious cult and the right-wing politics they champion will exploit your weaknesses, your anxieties and your differences from “normal” people, while witchcraft will only not to celebrate and encourage them, but will fuel your Power.

A struggle is at the heart of this series as we follow these vulnerable teenagers who find potential in their differences rather than their weaknesses. The message is clear: the qualities that make you “you” are powerful.

Maeve, who struggles with social anxiety and unpopularity, can now read minds. Lily’s hearing aid made it difficult for her to participate; it now becomes the source of his electrifying power. Still, the diversity of friends never feels forced – they have their own lovable identities, flaws, and characteristics that make them well-rounded and interesting.

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Brave, yet incredibly relatable, these teenagers are written with wit, honesty, and great authenticity. “People always think that when really dangerous things start happening, they’ll just start acting really heroic. But it’s never like that. The world could be burning and you’d still be… .to worry about your own bullshit.

With great heart and empathy, O’Donoghue takes the second book in a more mature direction, but the magic of the first (All our hidden gifts) rest, with deeper, more intimate explorations of relationships, trauma, and how finding yourself can sometimes feel like losing parts of yourself at first. And while it deals with darker themes, the kaleidoscopic, snappy writing stays true to the innocence and excitement that first drew us to the world of this series, now expanding and expanding into something truly bewitching.

Young adult: the gifts that bind us by Caroline O’Donoghue
Walker Books, 416 pages, paperback €11.20; e-book €5.79

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The Gifts That Bind Us by Caroline O’Donoghue

The Gifts That Bind Us by Caroline O’Donoghue

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