Gracie Byrne & the 80s-Infused Magic

The Fiction Addiction

The Totally True Story of Gracie Byrne, by Shannon Takaoka, is an
80s-infused magical YA, about an old journal that allows Gracie to write her own future. The background of Gracie’s everyday life, with 80s details, makes the perfect backdrop for the magical elements in this coming-of-age story.

When the story opens, teenage Gracie Byrne and her family have just moved to her grandmother’s house, so her newly-divorced mother can look after her grandmother — or Katherine, as they call her now. Katherine has Alzheimer’s, so she doesn’t remember that she has grandchildren. Katherine’s experience with Alzheimer’s is so sensitively done. The family tries to get Katherine to and from adult day care, to comfort her with familiar shows and music, and not to argue with her confused memories. It’s done with love, but it’s still a strain on the family.

Gracie, like most teenagers, wishes she had a different life. When she writes a daydream about herself and a handsome classmate, she finds that the story takes on a life of its own. With this journal, Gracie can literally create any life she wants, and stop being herself for a while. This is the heart of the story, considering the human questions of personal identity and life choices, with a magical twist. It’s fun and adventurous, with a meaningful question of personal choices throughout the book.

I recently reread Ready Player One, a constant barrage of retro pop culture references. Here, the 80s pop culture serves to ground the magical elements in the realistic world of cassette tapes, landlines and TV reruns. The details of everyday life help make the magical elements work well.

Gracie’s teen goals feel realistic, and her friendships feel reasonable too. While of course I wanted Gracie to insta-bond with a pack of great new friends immediately, it made more sense for her to develop a couple friendships with classmates. These felt realistic too, with a fun hint of Brat Pack high school circles. Her separation from her bestie at her old school (especially in the era where it could be too late in the evening to call a landline and disturb the whole family!) was sad and honest. Without too much of a spoiler, I particularly enjoyed Gracie getting a crush, discovering more about her crush and once he was interested in her, then wondering how to get away from him without hurting his feelings. Who hasn’t been there, magic or not???

The Totally True Story of Gracie Byrne was a fun YA story where the magical elements serve to tell a moving and realistic story of growth and identity.

Pairs well with This Time Tomorrow, another story with an aging, declining parent and a layered high school romance, with coming-of-age and time-travel.


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