Hi everyone! Today on Pop! Goes The Reader I’m so excited to partner with my friends at Walker Books US once again to offer five lucky readers the opportunity to win one of five copies of All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue! Back in August 2020 I was lucky enough to share the exclusive cover reveal for this book and was immediately intrigued when the publisher told me “Caroline (the author) manages to explore sexuality, gender identity, prejudice, revenge, female rage, and the intersection of the personal and the political against a perfectly moody backdrop, while keeping a wonderfully authentic voice to Maeve.” Today, I feel really lucky to share an exclusive excerpt from the novel and to give five readers the opportunity to read this fantastical book where “the magical bleeds into the familiar”.
Title All Our Hidden Gifts
Author Caroline O’Donoghue
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Publication Date March 30th 2021 by Walker Books US
Genre Contemporary, Fantasy
Find It On Goodreads ● Amazon ● Chapters ● The Book Depository ● Barnes & Noble ● IndieBound
After Maeve finds a pack of tarot cards while cleaning out a closet during her in-school suspension, she quickly becomes the most sought-after diviner at St. Bernadette’s Catholic school. But when Maeve’s ex–best friend, Lily, draws an unsettling card called The Housekeeper that Maeve has never seen before, the session devolves into a heated argument that ends with Maeve wishing aloud that Lily would disappear. When Lily isn’t at school the next Monday, Maeve learns her ex-friend has vanished without a trace.
Shunned by her classmates and struggling to preserve a fledgling romance with Lily’s gender-fluid sibling, Roe, Maeve must dig deep into her connection with the cards to search for clues the police cannot find — even if they lead to the terrifying Housekeeper herself. Set in an Irish town where the church’s tight hold has loosened and new freedoms are trying to take root, this sharply contemporary story is witty, gripping, and tinged with mysticism.
About Caroline O’Donoghue
Caroline O’Donoghue is an Irish author, journalist, and host of the acclaimed podcast Sentimental Garbage. She has contributed to Grazia, the Irish Times, the Irish Examiner, BuzzFeed, Vice, and The Times (London). She lives in London.
The first card in a standard pack of tarot is called The Fool. Despite the rather unfortunate name, The Fool is not an idiot. The Fool is about to set off on a journey, and he has no idea where he’s going. He has to believe that the winds of fate will carry him in the right direction, and while he is certain that there will be peril and pain along the way, he also knows in his heart that it’s a path that needs to be taken. Ultimately, he believes that everything is going to work out OK.
A similar kind of foolish determination goes into writing a book. Maeve Chambers arrived in my head one day while I was sitting on a London bus. It was the coldest night of the year, and we were stuck in traffic. I was miserable: I was broke, I’d recently lost my job, and my family — all the way across the Irish Sea — was in crisis. I conjured Maeve Chambers because I knew she was someone I could understand and someone who could understand me. In many ways, she’s exactly like I was as a teenager: overshadowed by charismatic siblings, terrible at school, and desperately looking for a “thing” to be good at. I started writing about her on my phone, sending long text messages to my long-suffering agent. I didn’t know where the story was going, but I knew I had to write it.
I threw myself into my Fool’s journey, and I hope you’ll throw yourself into it, too. Along the way you’ll meet some people who are very dear to me, and they’ll take care of you. Maeve will give you courage, Fiona will make you laugh, Roe will stay sensible, and Lily…well, it’s better if you get to know Lily yourself. (If you can find her.)
It’s not always a great journey. The world can be a vast and ugly place. People do mess things up when they’re sad or scared or lonely or jealous. But The Fool isn’t dumb for believing that everything is going to work out in the end. He’s able to believe it because he knows that ultimately there is more good than bad in the world. More kindness than you might suspect, more joy than you might dare to guess at. And if you can adopt some of The Fool’s attitude, trust me, you’re going to have a great time.
The story of how I ended up with The Chokey Card Tarot Consultancy can be told in four detentions, three notes sent home, two bad report cards, and one Tuesday afternoon that ended with me locked in a cupboard.
I’ll give you the short version. Miss Harris gave me an in-school suspension after I threw a shoe at Mr. Bernard. It was payback for him calling me stupid for not knowing my Italian verbs. To this, I responded that Italian was a ridiculous language to learn anyway and that we should all be learning Spanish, because globally, more people speak Spanish. Mr. Bernard then said that if I really thought I could learn Spanish quicker than I was currently learning Italian, I was deluded. He turned back to the whiteboard.
And then I threw my shoe.
I didn’t hit him. I’d like to stress that. I merely hit the board next to him. But no one seems to care about that except me. Maybe if I had a best friend — or really any close friend at all — I’d have someone to vouch for me. To tell them that it was a joke and that I would never knowingly hurt a teacher. Someone who could explain how it is with me: that sometimes frustration and rage surge through me, sparking out in ways I can’t predict or control.
But that friend doesn’t exist, and I’m not sure I would deserve them if they did.
In-school suspension starts on Tuesday morning, and Miss Harris meets me at her office and then leads me to the basement.
In the four years I’ve been at St. Bernadette’s, the sewage pipes have frozen and burst twice, not to mention the annual flood. As a result, the two tiny classrooms down here are covered in grass-green mold, and a damp, mildewy smell permeates everything. there’s also no natural light, so one class period feels like an eternity. Teachers try to avoid scheduling classes down here as much as they can, so naturally the basement gets used a lot for detention, examinations, and storing extraneous junk that no one can be bothered to throw away.
The nucleus of this is The Chokey, a long, deep cupboard that makes everyone think of the Trunchbull’s torture room in Matilda.
Miss Harris waves a dramatic arm at the cupboard. “Ta-da!”
“You want me to clean out The Chokey?” I gasp. “That’s inhumane.”
“More inhumane than throwing a shoe at someone, Maeve? Make sure to separate general waste from dry recyclables.”
“It didn’t hit him,” I protest. “You can’t leave me here to clean this out. Not by myself. Miss, there might be a dead rat in there.”
She hands me a roll of black plastic bin bags.
“Well, that would fall under ‘general waste.’”
And she leaves me there. Alone. In the creepy basement.
It’s impossible to know where to start. I pick at things, grumbling to myself that St. Bernadette’s is like this. It’s not like normal schools. It was a big Victorian town house for a very long time, until at some point during the 1960s, Sister Assumpta inherited it. Well. We say “Sister,” but she’s not really one. She was a novice, like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, and dropped out of the nunnery, and started a school for “well-bred girls.” It probably seemed like a good idea when the number of “well-bred” girls in the city was about a dozen. But there are about four hundred of us now, all bursting out of this crumbling house, rotating between classes in drafty prefabs and converted old attic bedrooms. It’s obscene how expensive it is to go to school here. I have to be careful about how much I complain in front of Mum and Dad. My four siblings didn’t have to go here, after all. They were bright enough to make it through free schools unaided, without the “extra attention” I so clearly require.
I can’t even step into The Chokey at first because of all the broken old desks and chairs that are stacked up on top of each other. St. Bernadette’s costs about two thousand euro a term, and wherever they spend that money, it’s not on health and safety. A fresh waft of rot and dust hits my nose every time a piece of furniture comes free. I try to make a neat pile in the corner of the classroom, but when chair legs start coming loose in my hands, splintering my skin and smacking against my legs, it gets less orderly. I become angry and athletic about my tidying, throwing rubbish across the room like an Olympic javelin. It becomes cathartic after a while. I throw my school jumper off so I can move more easily. My tights start to run.
Once all the furniture is cleared out, I’m amazed to see how much space there is in The Chokey. I always thought it was just a big cupboard, but it’s clear it used to be some kind of kitchen pantry. Three or four girls could fit in here, no problem. It’s good information to have; there’s no such thing as too many hiding places. It needs a lightbulb or something, though. The door is so heavy that I have to prop it open with an old chair, and even then I’m working in near to prop it open with an old chair, and even then I’m working in near darkness.
The furniture, however, is just the beginning. There are piles of papers, magazines, and old schoolbooks. I find exam papers from 1991, Bunty Annuals from the 1980s, and a couple of copies of something called Jackie magazine. I spend a while flipping through them, reading the problem pages and the weird illustrated soap operas that play out over ten panels. They’re all ridiculously dated. The stories all have titles like “Millie’s Big Catch!” and “A Date with Destiny!”
I read “A Date with Destiny.” It turns out Destiny is a horse.
When I reach the back wall, things start getting really interesting. ere are a couple of cardboard boxes stacked on top of one another, thick, chalky dust covering each one. I pull the top one down, open it, and find three Sony Walkmans, a packet of Super King cigarettes, half a bottle of crusty peach schnapps, and a pack of playing cards. There’s also a single hair clip with a little silver angel on it, looking very pure and holy next to the cigarettes and booze. I try it on briefly and then get worried about nits, so I throw it in a bin bag.
Contraband. This must be where all the confiscated stuff ended up.
Only one Walkman has a tape in it, so I stick the big headphones on and press play. Amazingly, it still works. The reels of the cassette start turning. Holy crap!
A playful, plodding bass line thrums in my head. Dum-dum dee-dum-de-dum. A woman’s voice whispers to me, childlike and sweet. She starts singing about a man she knows with teeth as white as snow, which feels like a dumb line. What other color would she expect them to be?
I listen, clipping the Walkman to my skirt. The case for the cassette is in the contraband box as well. I pop it open to see that it’s a homemade mix. The only decoration is a white label that says e only decoration is a white label that says Spring 1990. I don’t recognize most of the songs, but they all have a grungy, erratic, artsy edge to them. Songs where you can hear the bad eyeshadow. I can’t remember the last time I listened to something and didn’t know exactly what it was. I’m not even sure I want to find out what these songs are. It’s sort of cool not to know. I listen to the tape over and over as I continue clearing out The Chokey. There are about eleven songs in all, all by either very high-pitched men or very low-voiced women.
I lift another heavy box, but this time the damp cardboard splits at the bottom, and everything in it comes crashing down on me, smacking me in the face full force. Something must hit the door, because the chair I was using to prop it open suddenly topples over, and The Chokey door slams shut.
I’m plunged into stinking darkness. I grapple around for the doorknob and realize that there isn’t one. Maybe it’s not a pantry after all. Maybe it’s just a closet.
The music keeps playing in my ears. Now it doesn’t seem fun and bouncy. It’s creepy. Morrissey is singing about cemetery gates. The tape gets stuck as I pound on the door, a little hiccup at the end of the word gates.
“HELLO?” I shout. “HELLO, HELLO, I’m STUCK in here! I’M STUCK IN THE CHOKEY!”
“cemetery gAtEs, cemetery gAtEs, cemetery gAtEs, cemetery gAtEs…”
The cupboard, which felt so roomy just minutes ago, now feels like a matchbox. I’ve never thought of myself as claustrophobic, but the closer the walls press in on me, the more I think about the air in the room, which already feels so thick and stale that it might choke me alive.
I will not cry, I will not cry, I will not cry.
I don’t cry. I never cry. What does happen is actually worse.
Blood rushes to my head, and even though I’m in complete darkness, I see spots of purple in my vision, and I think I’m about to faint. I grapple around for something to steady me, and my hand falls on something cool, heavy, and rectangular. Something that feels like paper.
The battery is starting to die on the Walkman. “Cemetery gAtEs, cemetery gAtEs, cemetery gAaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy . . .”
And then nothing. Silence. Silence, except me screaming for help and banging on the door.
The door flies open, and it’s Miss Harris. I practically fall on top of her.
“Maeve,” she says, her expression worried. Despite my panic, I still feel smug at how concerned she looks. Take that, bitch. I bet she regrets this in-school suspension thing now. “What happened? Are you OK?”
“The door closed on me,” I blurt. “The door closed, and I was stuck, and I…”
“Sit down,” she orders. She’s carrying her handbag. It must be lunchtime. She fishes in it and brings out a bottle of water, unscrews the cap, and hands it to me. “Take small sips. Don’t be sick. You’re panting, Maeve.”
“I’m OK,” I say at last. “I just panicked. Is it lunch?”
She looks really worried now. “Maeve, it’s four o’clock.”
“You mean to say you haven’t taken lunch? You’ve been here this whole time?”
“Yes! You told me to stay here!”
She shakes her head, as if I’m the magic porridge pot that keeps spewing porridge relentlessly until you say the magic word to stop it.
“I have to say,” she says, walking into the cupboard – I briefly consider closing the door on her — “it’s amazing what you can do when you apply yourself. I had no idea there was so much space in there. You’re a magician. Well done.”
“Thanks,” I reply weakly. “I guess I’ll be a cleaner.”
“I think you should clean up in the bathroom and go home,” she says, and I realize what a state I must look. I’m covered head to toe in dust, my tights are ripped, and there are bits of cobweb stuck to my school shirt.
“Are you sure you’re OK?”
“Yep,” I say, a little snappy this time.
“I’ll see you in the morning. We can figure out what to do with all this furniture.” She makes her way to the door, slinging her handbag onto her shoulder. She takes one last look at me, then tilts her head to the side.”
Huh,” she says at last. “I never knew you were into tarot cards.”
I have no idea what she’s talking about. Then I look down. There, clutched in my hands, is a deck of cards.