Daphne and the Mysterious Girls Secret Bathroom Society
by Robert Shields
Synopsis: Following years of persecution at the hands of Vivica Vance, Daphne Downing levels the playing field wielding her No. 2 Ticonderoga pencil as she belatedly enters the world of witchcraft. Daphne becomes part of the Mysterious Girls’ Secret Bathroom Society and finds out that the politics governing witchcraft are daunting and sometimes deadly. She realizes she is aligned with the Charmers in this political battle with the Spiters led by her nemesis, Vivica. Along the way, she discovers that witches do not perform magic or witchcraft but a differentiated form of physics that only some women have mastered. The story deepens as she learns about the long history of witches’ domination and annihilation of wizards
Daphne and the Mysterious Girls Secret Bathroom Society (Daphne & from now on) is a fantasy-esque novel that follows in the vein of Harry Potter and Diana Wynne Jones. In this alternate world magic is something that all women have the capacity to perform, yet if they don’t recognise it early in life they grow up to be regular magic-less human beings. Unlike Harry Potter, magic in Daphne & isn’t really magic, it’s really a manipulation of physics. Essentially, young girls and trained adult witches recognise a different type of physics than what is standard in science, so the “physics rules” that the world runs on are merely one way of looking at how the world works, or can work. This was possibly one the highlights of this novel, the idea that the girls have to be young and not yet indoctrinated into the physics that Newton, Einstein and co have informed us of. If you’ve ever watched young children play, it’s the capacity to believe anything is possible and nothing is out of bounds that is so wonderful about them.
Anyway, in this world some girls and women have the ability to freeze time, apparate (for want of a better term), transform into other people, and a myriad of other awesome abilities. Once upon a time there were wizards, but they were exterminated by the witches long ago, so it’s only girls who have this ability to manipulate physics. Daphne is not one of these girls. She’s a young teenage girl who crushes on boys and has an ongoing feud with the beautiful female bully (Viv). It’s not until an altercation with Viv that the secret world of magic/female physics are revealed to Daphne, and she realises she’s one of the only girls her age who isn’t a witch. The first half of the book centres around this revelation and Daphne’s determination to become a witch like her best friend Lyla and her younger sister. As Daphne learns how to cast a spell and the history of the witches, we, as an audience, also learn the background of this world. At times it felt a little to exposition-y, but for the most part I felt like it was a neat way to pack in a lot of information and unfold the story at the same time. After the initial learning aspect of the story, it descends into a mystery surrounding the history of witches and wizards and the older female witches in charge of female physics. I won’t divulge any of this plot because it’s best to discover it as it unfolds, but even as the main plot is concluded it opens the door for a series to unfold from aspects introduced in this book.
There were parts of this book that I really enjoyed, for instance, I really enjoyed the small references to the side effects of certain spells. In one example, the casting of one spell is linked to dementia, so witches try to avoid using that spell unless there are no other options. Similarly, the manipulation of physics/looking at physics through a different lens was a big part of what I liked about this book. It was a new idea, and the complexity of the description is really intriguing and I could see a great series being born out of it.
One downside with this novel is the writing itself. I found it a little formal, especially considering the book focuses on a group of teenage witches. The dialogue wasn't written in the most natural intonation, for example, there are very few contractions used, and I know that when I was younger (and even still) I almost never said “I am,” “do not” “have not” etc. There were also some inconsistencies where the young girls would jump from not understanding “big” words one minute and then use an equally long or difficult word a few pages later. Much of this is easily fixed, and I did find that the writing improved as the book went on, but it did take me out of the story from time to time and sometimes led to really strange sentences or conversations.
I’d recommend this book to readers either around mid-teens or who enjoy books that fall towards the younger end of YA books. There is some language that is perhaps a little too risqué for young readers and some of the physics concepts are quite advanced, but this is the kind of book I would have loved to read when I was younger, with its blend of humour, early-teen angst, boy trouble, friendship and magic in the one cohesive story.