Queer YA Spotlight: The Lost Coast

Premise: The Grays are a tight-knit coven of teen witches, until their most charismatic and talented member, Imogen, walks into the woods one night and comes back a shell of her former self. The Grays cast a spell to summon someone, anyone, who might be able to help, and into town wanders Danny, a girl with a strong sense of yearning but little sense of where it’s always been trying to take her. Danny is ecstatic to find the witches and win their approval, but as the mist thickens and the ancient redwood forest fills with dead boys and disappeared girls, time is running out to discover her inner magic and find what’s left of Imogen.

Rainbow rep: a queer ensemble cast, including a self-described queer lead, a bisexual witch, a non-binary ace witch, and multiple f/f romances; many explorations of queer themes like found family and the search for a place to belong.

Content considerations: discussions of homophobia, including a character being kicked out by her parents; brief discussions of terminal illness and parental death; brief (but often poetic rather than graphic) descriptions of dead bodies.

There is magic running through the heart of The Lost Coast. Every sentence feels like it was carefully crafted to create a certain atmosphere, sometimes warm and welcoming and sometimes otherworldly and haunting. Sometimes both. The words are woven like, well, a spell: light acts like liquid, silence falls like snow, and the settings—from scrappy rental cabins to the ancient looming haven of The Lost Coast’s redwood forests—come to life with such vibrancy you feel like you’re there.

And the magic, well, the magic just makes sense, skittering through every phrase, hovering just in the corner of your eye and dancing in your fingertips. It feels real, it feels like it has texture and substance, and it feels like it’s part of the text itself and part of the characters.

I am very fond of these stories where the fantasy aspect is tightly intertwined with these very human, character-focused stories: backyard magic, under-the-skin magic, where it’s a fact of everyday life but never quite loses its wonder, and always speaks to the coming-of-age story at hand. In fact, in a lot of ways The Lost Coast feels like something of a Pacific Northwest sibling to Summer of Salt, and a spooky older cousin to Euphoria Kids, both of which I also loved. The poetry to the writing, the lushness of the descriptive prose, and the way magic blends in with the characters’ journeys and the central allegories of the novels, makes them nothing short of enchanting.

The Lost Coast is narrated by wanderer Danny, most of the time, though it swings and switches between a variety of close third person perspectives—kind of giving the impression that the “camera” is sliding out of her mind and floating around, peeking over the shoulders of other characters. We see the world through other members of The Grays, through a nebulous and unnamed hivemind of the students at their school, and through the “eyes” of the ancient trees themselves, who occasionally dip in to offer their commentary.

The effect that it gives is that the whole world is alive and watching, and there are many stories at play outside of Danny’s personal conflict. The chapters also dip forwards and backwards in time, creating a nonlinear narrative that makes for an intriguing, fragmentary picture of the story and its players, all of which slowly builds towards a conclusion to the various mysteries flitting around the cast.

You probably want me to get out of “how it’s written” and into “what it’s about”, but in truth the two are connected. The nonlinear storytelling and the lush narration works in service of the dreamlike quality of the novel and its core theme of trying to find and trying to figure things out.

Every witch has a type of magic they specialise in, and Danny’s is dowsing—an innate sense of magical direction, a canny ability to find things. Naturally, she’s a good fit for helping The Grays find Imogen (because though Imogen’s body is walking around school, it’s pretty clear that her sense of self is elsewhere), but she’s also a perfect fit for the protagonist of a book about being lost and seeking a place you belong.

The Grays are all misfits in one way or another, some from stifling families, some odd by the expectations of girlhood, all queer, and, of course, all witches. Yet they found each other, and they fit together. Danny is the most displaced, and this has manifested in many ways throughout her life. She finds herself drawn to needy girls, and ends up in fleeting, shallow relationships that never really feel like the love and affirmation she wants. She finds herself getting out of bed and walking, tugged by some inexplicable urge, ending up in fields and highway gas stations and other people’s gardens.

She wants to be loved, but can’t quite find someone who loves her. She wants to be somewhere, but can’t quite tell where that somewhere is. Both of these yearnings are getting her in big trouble with her mother, so she doesn’t really have the agency to search for the answer to either of them. Until she moves to Tempest, California, and finds herself at last with some people who give her the language to name her longings.

She has queer solidarity among The Grays, which already feels like a breath of fresh air… but she also now understands that those weird instinctive tugs were a manifestation of her dowsing magic, an innate and unique magical sense of direction. Probably trying to pull her towards someone like The Grays, who would see her truly and take her under their wing—which is what she longed for, even if she didn’t know it yet. Which, honestly, is sometimes what exploring your own queerness can feel like: knowing that you’re searching for something, but not being quite able to articulate that until you find it.

I love it when stories weave together magical metaphor and queer text, and Danny’s power was such an interesting way to make physical a feeling that afflicts many queer kids. The coven, which Danny gradually befriends, are a found family layered with Otherness that provide the sense of welcome she didn’t know she needed. Here, her sexuality is accepted and celebrated, her weirdness is taken for granted, and her tendency to wander in search of nameless things is what will save the day and unravel, at last, the haunting mysteries of Imogen and the redwoods.

The characters are all wonderfully constructed, the landscape feels both realistically lived-in and alive in its own right, and the story builds to a triumphant, warm conclusion that brings those themes of solidarity home. The Lost Coast enchanted me and when I got to the final page I was almost sad that it was over. I’d gladly return to Tempest and the redwoods, and if you like your magic dreamy, poetic, and unabashedly queer, I’d definitely recommend you venture there too.

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Filed under Alex Reads

4 responses to “Queer YA Spotlight: The Lost Coast

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