Author: Cat Hellisen
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co, 2015
Sarah’s parents have never set down roots, and she’s spent all the years of her short life constantly moving to new towns and new schools. Consequently, she’s a lonely child and doesn’t have any friends. Her parents are everything to her, so when her mother leaves the family one night, she is devastated. To add to her burden, her father falls apart at the seams too, and it’s up to Sarah to keep things together – going to school and ensuring that the household limps along.
She finds refuge in her “Not-a-Forest”, a small vacant lot where she meets a strange boy, who may or may not become a friend – only he knows more than he’s letting on. She doesn’t have time to find out, however, as her father packs their life up and takes Sarah to go stay with her grandparents, who live in a run-down castle in the middle of a menacing forest. Here she discovers how her family has existed under a curse for years, and that she and her father are also trapped within the cycle of maleficent magic.
We follow Sarah as she tries to unravel the knots of hatred and obsession that have poisoned her grandparents and destroyed the lives of her parents, but in order to do so, she needs to be brave and travel through some truly dark places.
As always, Hellisen seems to effortlessly touch on the universality of fairy tales to delve even deeper and bring up underlying themes. One one level, this is a children’s quest to break a curse. On another, it’s a parable of how twisted love has soured to hate and indifference, and how one young person can find it in herself to step outside the trap of a destructive cycle. This is a dark, painful and elegant tale, made all the more beautiful, because Hellisen weaves with mystery and doesn’t hand over all the answers on a plate.