Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Book description on Amazon:
Description (from Amazon): When Kara Westfall was five years old, her mother was convicted of the worst of all crimes: witchcraft. Years later, Kara and her little brother, Taff, are still shunned by the people of their village, who believe that nothing is more evil than magic…except, perhaps, the mysterious forest that covers nearly the entire island. It has many names, this place. Sometimes it is called the Dark Wood, or Sordyr’s Realm. But mostly it’s called the Thickety.
The villagers live in fear of the Thickety and the terrible creatures that live there. But when an unusual bird lures Kara into the forbidden forest, she discovers a strange book with unspeakable powers. A book that might have belonged to her mother.
And that is just the beginning of the story.
A friend recommended this story to me. She said my son would love it, but what I didn’t expect was to fall in love with it myself. From the very first chapter, I knew The Thickety wasn’t a typical middle-grade fantasy. It’s dark and deliciously frightening:
After a considerate pause, the nightseeker straightened, as though a decision had been made. It raised its needle paw high into the air and angled it toward Kara’s right eye.
“No!” she screamed. “Please!”
The nightseeker’s other paw was an impossible weight on her chest. No matter how hard she jerked and twisted, she could not move a single inch. Each breath was a struggle.
“Judgment has been delivered!” Fen’de Stone proclaimed. “It looks like we’ll be ridding the world of two witches tonight! A return to glory for the Children of the Fold!”
White constructs a world that is a dichotomy between evil and good. The inhabitants of De’Noran follow a puritanical cult-like religion, centered around keeping to “a path” and staying out of the overgrown woods that’s home to monsters (and possibly a forest-devil). It’s interesting how the realm of evil on the island is represented by a lush forest that the inhabitants must cut away at so it doesn’t encroach upon the village. I read this as a metaphor for the patriarchy’s fear of fertility, and to that end, women. Only women can be witches in this universe.
Kara is a reluctant hero, a trope that is quite popular in YA and middle-grade fiction, and yet White writes her so well, creating pathos in droves, that I instantly identified with her (as did my son), and I was fully invested in her triumphs and losses.
Poor Kara has to shoulder too much responsibility for a girl of 12, what with an emotionally crippled father and a sickly younger brother–not to mention the fact that the family are social pariahs because her mother was executed as a witch. Kara tries to come to terms with the fact her mother might have been evil. Hell, maybe Kara herself is evil. The woods seem to think so, and the creatures of the Thickety, especially Sordyr, have taken a special interest in her.
But what is good and evil in this world, and are there shades of grey? I suspect it’s all grey, but the author, whom I reached out to, won’t confirm whether the magic in De’Noran is all black. Spoilers, you see.
White’s prose is lovely, his imagery evocative, and his characters well fleshed-out. In particular, I adored the psychotic antagonist, Grace: De’Noran’s darling, meaner than Regina George and crazier than Amanda Bynes.
I will warn that many parents found the story too dark for the recommended age group (8 – 12), so if your child is sensitive to the horror genre, perhaps this is not the right book for him or her. The Thickety also explores addiction, but it creates a great opportunity to discuss the dangers of addictive behavior with your kids.
For readers without kids: the book is more frightening than any horror novel I’ve read in the last few years, probably because I cared so much about the protagonist, Kara Westfall.
This is the first book of a series. Stay tuned for tomorrow–I’ll be posting my interview with the author!
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