Andromeda Klein hates it when people refer to her as a “teenage witch.” She’s nothing like that; she prefers the more accurate term “teenage occultist.” She’s obsessed with arcane occult books, and much of the latest novel by Frank Portman (author of King Dork) involves her attempts to rescue as many of these kinds of books as she can from the grasps of the so-called “”Friends of the Library.”
Andromeda is especially interested in tarot cards, and anything that has to do with them. That’s why she reveres A.E. Waite, the man behind what is probably the most popular tarot deck in the world and which still bears his name today. Each chapter is headed by a picture of one of the cards from a tarot deck. She speaks the initials “A.E.” out loud at times, or the name of another of her heroes, “Trismegistus,” as if invoking their aid and wisdom to help her make it through trying situations.
According to her mother - or “the mom,” as she’s called in the book (her father is, of course, “the dad”) - she was born with osteogenesis imperfecta. That’s why her bones are brittle and why she has severe hearing problems. Also, in addition to being an occultist, dressing strangely, and mostly keeping to herself, Andromeda is taunted by the other teens at Clearview High School because she has a slight, boyish figure. She’s often called “No-ass,” by the students who think she’s a freak (and one lacking in the ass department). Even one of her friends, Rosalie van Genuchten, calls her “Man-dromeda” sometimes, because of her somewhat androgynous appearance.
Her best friend and partner in the occult, "Twice Holy Soror" Daisy Wasserstrom, died of leukemia when Andromeda was on vacation with her mother and her father. She still feels guilty about not being there when her friend died, but she and Daisy had fallen out and not talked to each other for some time before the vacation and Daisy’s death. Andromeda looked up to Daisy and considered herself a mere apprentice to her in occult matters, but the truth was that Daisy often took advantage of Andromeda as they were growing up and ordered her around.
Despite this, Daisy chose as Andromeda’s significator - the tarot card that represented her in spreads - The Lovers. Andromeda sometimes wears the blonde wig Daisy had worn after chemotherapy made her bald, and one of Daisy’s studded belts and her rain slicker, when she does tarot readings to try to fool any demonic influences that might be around into cooperating and assisting her with the readings, in the belief that she is Daisy. She got these “weegie,” (Ouija) items of clothing and other things Daisy owned from Daisy’s twelve-year-old brother, Den, in return for racy magazines with some nude photos in them that she raided from her father’s hidden collection of porn.
One of the (many) things that confuses Andromeda at the beginning of the novel is why, in a spread she’s laid out for herself, her significator is the Two of Swords. ( I looked up the meaning of the card online, and it represents someone who is confused about herself.) The woman on the card is blindfolded, unaware of what’s going on around her. Eventually, when Andromeda gets an apprentice of her own - Byron - and begins to feel more self-assured, and has Huggy (HGA - a High Guardian Angel) also giving her informative advice - she takes on a different attitude about swords. Byron locates one for her to use in a ritual to help stop two demons from causing mischief (or worse), and Andromeda thinks to herself
“There really was nothing like a sword.”
Andromeda’s love interest is St. Steve. That’s what she heard, but she misheard the guy when he said he was “sensitive.” Her “friends” like Rosalie doubt whether she has or had a boyfriend, because they’ve never seen him. He’s an older man who has taken Andromeda drinking to a bar called The Old Folk’s Home, where she’s ordered martinis. Apparently, he hasn’t ever taken advantage of her to the point of their having sex, but it strikes one as a creepy kind of relationship. She has various self-made tattoos on her body, several of which relate to St. Steve. Though he has not contacted her much as the novel opens, whenever she gets a text from UNAVAILABLE (that’s the heading she chose for him to contact her with, to throw off her mother), she gets excited and does whatever the text asks her to do, like take off her bra.
Rosalie van Genuchten, who throws drug-and-alcohol saturated "Afternoon Teas" and always tries to get Andromeda to attend, also sometimes acts like she’s Andromeda’s friend but generally is really just using her. She insults Andromeda and other people around her then brushes it off by saying “Just kidding” at the end of her comments. Andromeda hears it as “Skidding.” Rosalie has tried to hook Andromeda up in the past, and she’s the one responsible for Andromeda’s meeting up with Byron, who is reputed to have a male “tramp stamp.”
Though much of what Rosalie does in the novel is despicable and self-centered, and her actions result in a lot of trouble for Andromeda, she is a humorous character. For instance, to get around town when she is unable to use her mother’s car, she drives one of her friend’s parent’s cars, an Impala (“Gimpala,” as it’s called in the book) all over town in reverse when a mechanical problem keeps it from moving forward.
Andromeda doesn’t like much about Byron at first: it looks like he’s wearing girl jeans, he’s too short, and his beard is wispy and unattractive. But she does like some of his interests in the occult, and that his shirt bears the name of a band called “Choronzon,” which is the name of a demon. Still, she thinks that his knowledge of the occult isn’t very deep. She hates it that he mispronounces Aleister Crowley’s name and that he says the word “magick” (pronouncing it “mageek”) instead of magic.
Andromeda Klein is a highly entertaining, page-turning novel about Andromeda’s search for herself through the eyes of others and her interest in the occult. It’s often very funny, and you find yourself caring about her, hoping she will end up having a happier life than she seems to be experiencing throughout much of the novel. A lot of obscure references are made to esoteric books and occult practices, but I wasn’t bothered by them because Andromeda and Daisy are supposed to be very knowledgeable about this subject. Also, since Andromeda works part-time in Clearview’s library and is around occult books there, trying to save them from being auctioned off, her fairly extensive knowledge of the occult has a logical explanation.
I thoroughly enjoyed Andromeda Klein and highly recommend it to any teens interested in novels dealing with the occult, with the caveat that some parents might not approve of their teens reading about occult subjects. The talented Frank Portman’s first YA novel, King Dork, is being made into a movie. Andromeda Klein is the sort of book I would like to be passed on by my daughter to her children and cherished, much as I have done in passing on the books of Roald Dahl to her and my son.