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*Spells and Sleeping Bags (Magic in Manhattan)* by Sarah Mlynowski- young adult dark fantasy book review

Also by Sarah Mlynowski:

Parties and Potions (Magic in Manhattan)
Spells and Sleeping Bags (Magic in Manhattan)
by Sarah Mlynowski
Grades 7-9 320 pages Delacorte April 2008 Paperback    

Ah… Summertime and the livin’ is easy! Unless, of course, you’re a teenage witch at summer camp, upstaged by a younger sister who’s better than you at witchcraft, and you’re bunking with an evil witch intent on stealing your boyfriend and switching identities with you. What was shaping up to be a perfect summer can turn out to be a teenage witch’s worse nightmare! That’s what happens to Rachel Weinstein in Spells and Sleeping Bags, the latest book by Sarah Mlynowski. It’s a fun novel that makes for a fantastic reading experience for the summer or any time of the year.

Rachel Weinstein points out the obvious comparisons that might first come to your mind when you think about teenage female witches of recent times: “I have powers, like Hermione and Sabrina, like my sister and my mother.” While there’s a touch of both Sabrina and Hermione about her in that she gets herself in trouble with her witchcraft when it invariably goes wrong (okay, the comparison applies to a greater extent with Sabrina than with Hermione), Rachel is a full-fledged character in her own right.

Her powers are finally arriving, and she’s getting to go spend seven weeks of her summer vacation at Camp Wood Lake with her little sister, Miri, and her “big crush, Raf.” She can’t wait to try out her powers and spend time with Raf Kasravi, whom she considers to be “the hottest guy in my class.” Miri’s powers manifested themselves earlier than hers, and her little sister has a copy of the magic book of spells The Authorized and Absolute Reference Handbook to Astonishing Spells, Astounding Potions, and History of Witchcraft Since The Beginning of Time that Rachel’s mother doesn’t want her to have yet, but still, she can do some magic by using her will and wishing something to happen.

That doesn’t always work out exactly how she wants it to, though. For instance, on the bus trip to the camp, Miri gets carsick and throws up on herself and Rachel. In a gas station bathroom, with Miri’s help, she tries out her first official spell in an attempt to make their clothes clean again. It works - their clothes do become clean - but the colors have blended and swirled together making them look tie-dyed. Also, humorously:
I turn around and stare at my behind in the mirror. Instead of saying Camp Wood Lake, my shorts now say Ooodle Wamp Ack. As does my shirt. As does Miri’s. Oops.
Still, despite her spells not working perfectly, Rachel manages to have a lot of fun at Camp Wood Lake. It’s just that too many things seem to be going wrong for something, or someone, else not to be behind the predicaments and foiled romantic moments that make for many of the comic moments in Spells and Sleeping Bags. For example, when she and Raf try to kiss, a soccer ball comes out of nowhere and hits her head. Then, at Lookout Point when they try to make out, they’re descended upon by a swarm of angry bees. Rachel begins to be afraid of her own abilities, fearing that she’s “an out-of-control witch.”

Then, one-by-one, all of her friends seem to be turning against her and becoming friends with Liana, a girl who transfers to Rachel’s bunk, number fourteen. Alison, who had been one of Rachel’s best friends at the camp, was caught smoking - something that she’d never done before - and gets sent home, leaving the opening for Liana. Could she be the one behind Alison’s getting sent home and the romantic problems that are plaguing her summer?

Spells and Sleeping Bags is the third book in Sarah Mlynowski’s series about the magical Weinstein family (the first two are Bras & Broomsticks and Frogs & French Kisses). Teenage girls who enjoy the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling and Sabrina the Teenage Witch from comic books and the TV series should also fall under Rachel Weinstein's spell. Guys can also find plenty to enjoy - who doesn’t like a good story about magic? - but might be not be interested about some of the things Rachel obsesses over, like her boobs being two different sizes, or that her stepmother appears to be sending her embarrassing feminine hygiene care packages in the mail. Spells and Sleeping Bags is overall a fun, entertaining book I recommend to teens and anyone who likes a humorous tales of magic and witchcraft.

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