Colleen Mondor Reviews All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue
All Our Hidden Gifts, Caroline O’Donoghue (Walker 978-1-5362-1394-2, $19.99, 384pp, hc) June 2021.
As Caroline O’Donoghue’s All Our Hidden Gifts begins, readers are introduced to Maeve Chambers, an otherwise typical Irish teenager who suffers from a bit of impulse control when it comes to her temper. After a failed attempt at obtaining popularity a few years earlier, during which she sacrificed her relationship with her lifelong best friend Lily, Maeve has been furious with herself and everyone around her. Another angry outburst in class has now landed her a detention assignment to clean out a dismal storeroom, and she’s determined to make as quick a job as possible of it. It is there that she discovers a set of tarot cards that end up wreaking all sorts of havoc on her life and town. This darkly exciting novel takes off from that moment, and includes all sorts of paranormal twists and turns, plus a very frightening look at contemporary culture conflicts.
The cards initially are just a hobby, something some internet research quickly teaches Maeve how to master. She’s canny enough to realize it’s all coming just a bit too easily, but as she starts reading cards for her classmates, she becomes more and more comfortable with sending out pithy pronouncements about everyone’s future. Alongside her classmate Fiona, a fan of the cards who acts as Maeve’s business manager, it’s all just harmless fun, but then the forbidding Housekeeper card makes an appearance and Maeve realizes that nothing about these cards is casual. Then, under some ugly peer pressure, she does a reading for Lily, and the Housekeeper shows up, with catastrophic results.
In rapid order, Lily vanishes and, because of the tarot readings, everyone blames Maeve. Solving this mystery is not going to be easy and running around blaming a card for it will not get Maeve, Fiona, and Lily’s brother Roe any closer to a solution. They have to figure out why the powerful Housekeeper has zeroed in on Lily and how the tarot cards ended up in the school closet in the first place.
Irish author Caroline O’Donoghue draws on her country’s history to craft a compelling backstory for the Housekeeper. She also delves into Ireland’s recent politics, with mentions of the 2018 referendum overturning the country’s abortion ban and the 1995 referendum that permitted divorce. (This one may be a shock to some American readers.) That history becomes particularly relevant when Maeve and Fiona repeatedly encounter a local youth group under the thrall of a magnetic leader with sinister goals of his own. Between the paranormal activities of the Housekeeper and the dangers presented by the cult-like Children of Brigid, Maeve finds herself struggling to stay focused on Lily’s disappearance. O’Donaghue shows how the Children of Brigid are as dangerous as the Housekeeper, with Maeve’s queer sister and her partner directly attacked by the group. Roe, who identifies as nonbinary, also feels threatened as the danger increases from all quarters.
All Our Hidden Gifts would have been a thrilling urban fantasy with just the Housekeeper mystery, but the inclusion of the Children of Brigid rapidly increases the tension. Maeve and her friends have to contend with multiple threats while she must face her own responsibility for the Housekeeper’s resurrection. As to how it all ends, and what happened to Lily, that might be the best thing about the novel. O’Donoghue doesn’t let Maeve off the hook, and Lily’s story ends up being more complex than it initially appears. There is definitely a series potential here and, with so many things still to learn about these characters, I hope that the author follows up on that promise.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the June 2021 issue of Locus.
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