That night left each of us holding pieces of broken glass. And ever since, we have been gripping them. We have been clenching our fingers around them, the edges cutting into our palms, blood on the silver.
We may never be able to set them down for good. They may be in our hands forever, something we’re always holding. But we don’t have to grip them. We don’t have to hold them so tightly that they’re forever cutting our fingers.
Instead, we hold them as lightly as we can. We let them rest on our palms. We don’t help them do the work of drawing our blood.
We live with them. We learn the ways that broken things can catch the light.
Premise: after Ciela and a boy she hardly knows are sexually assaulted by classmates at a party, Ciela’s world begins to change. She loses the ability she’s always had to guess exactly what sweets and pan dulce her customers want and need. The seasonal winds are eerily still. Trees are vanishing inexplicably from the neighbourhood. And, most troubling, everywhere Ciela goes objects and plants are turning to mirrored glass. When the boy turns up at school, Ciela sees someone she needs to protect—and wonders if them helping each other recover is what might bring the magic back.
Content considerations: sexual trauma as a main theme, the act itself described in detail; systemic racism, internalised victim-blaming
Rainbow rep: a pansexual protagonist, her ex-girlfriend turned best friend, various queer side characters
This is a beautifully written book about a difficult subject, making it simultaneously really fun and really stressful to read. It’s also a book I really want to tell people about, but it’s difficult to write on. I want to sing to the skies how good The Mirror Season was, but I also find myself just… floating, haunted yet serene, in the waters of the feelings this story left with me. That’s a kind of magic in itself, I suppose.
The Mirror Season is about trauma and magic. Until the very end of the novel, the question lingers: is the world literally turning to mirrored glass, or is it just an overarching metaphor for Ciela’s feelings? The idea of the world around you becoming brittle and sharp, that ordinary objects and plants might suddenly splinter in your hands, that you cannot dare get close to anything you hold dear unless it breaks and makes you bleed… it’s fantastical, but it also speaks strongly to the emotional reality of trying to exist while raw from recent trauma. “Is this a metaphor?” is the wrong question entirely, because for Ciela this is perfectly and terrifyingly real.
The magic is just as real as the less evident consequences and responses of Ciela’s sexual assault. For everyone else, it’s as if it never happened: Ciela dares not speak of it, and to some degree is in denial about what happened. Even if she told people, she knows—with the pragmatism of the marginalised—that there would be little point. She is a queer, brown, scholarship student who was treated as an object by a group of white kids from rich families. Ciela’s natural wide hips and confidence means she is “asking for it”, and her pansexuality can be conveniently boiled down to “she’ll do anyone”. Who are the authorities most likely to believe?
The novel does not flinch away from depicting how entitled toxicity flows down through generations. The antagonists are frankly terrifying because they are so ordinary: two spoiled, wealthy high school girls and their jock boyfriends. Their evil is rendered invisible, and so magic must intervene to turn the world to glass, to still the winds, to do something to make this real and show the massive impact it’s had.
In trying to protect Lock, the boy assaulted alongside her, Ciela’s first instinct is to make sure he never remembers the full truth of what happened. For her, rejecting the truth of it is the only way to move on. But the further she suppresses these memories and feelings, the more her internal turmoil leaks out as magic, creating more and more glass shards she needs to hide away in her wardrobe—lest they lodge in someone’s heart and make them cold and bitter forever.
Out of all these broken pieces comes an unexpected romance: Lock and Ciela bonding over their shared alienation from the school elite, and later over their shared trauma. It makes your heart ache, watching them tentatively reclaim their agency and sense of humour with each other. They’re able to build something new because they can each see and acknowledge the wreckage they’re standing in. They drag one another out of their spirals of internalised victim-blaming. It’s not perfect, and they manage to hurt each other along the way, but they carve out a space for something new and hopeful.
This novel does not end neatly. The question of whether or not justice will be served hangs in the air, alongside the question of whether or not Ciela and Lock will ever really be okay again. But the air is no longer still: the winds come back, the world shifts, and there is a sense of new beginnings and the promise of emotional closure. It’s a novel of catharsis, and Ciela’s internal strength is as much a part of that as the external magic.
The Mirror Season comes from a very personal place, as McLemore explains in the author’s notes. The novel treats this subject matter with the gravitas it deserves, while also making time to pepper in humour among the coping mechanisms. Ciela and Lock feel very real, and funnily enough so do the magical elements: like I said, they reflect that emotional reality of trying to process something terrible happening to you, the world itself slipping into fairy tale logic to compensate for the wickedness of normality. Take those content warnings into account, but read The Mirror Season. It’s a truly beautiful, enchanting story that gives a magical platform to a topic that’s difficult to discuss. It shook me up, but it laid me down gently in the end—not in shards of glass but in that gentle water.