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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

Release Date: August 23, 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Age Group: Young Adult
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Pages: 320
Series: Fairytale Retellings #2
Buy: Amazon
Description: Goodreads
Twelve years ago, Gretchen, her twin sister, and her brother went looking for a witch in the forest. They found something. Maybe it was a witch, maybe a monster, they aren’t sure—they were running too fast to tell. Either way, Gretchen’s twin sister was never seen again.

Years later, after being thrown out of their house, Gretchen and Ansel find themselves in Live Oak, South Carolina, a place on the verge of becoming a ghost town. They move in with Sophia Kelly, a young and beautiful chocolatier owner who opens not only her home, but her heart to Gretchen and Ansel.

Yet the witch isn’t gone—it’s here, lurking in the forests of Live Oak, preying on Live Oak girls every year after Sophia Kelly’s infamous chocolate festival. But Gretchen is determined to stop running from witches in the forest, and start fighting back. Alongside Samuel Reynolds, a boy as quick with a gun as he is a sarcastic remark, Gretchen digs deeper into the mystery of not only what the witch is, but how it chooses its victims. Yet the further she investigates, the more she finds herself wondering who the real monster is, and if love can be as deadly as it is beautiful.

This remix of Hansel & Gretel is a must for all fairytale buffs, young and old, but beware. Jackson Pearce's version is darker, more grisly version of the story you heard as a child and scary enough to make you question the original.

I was drawn in from the first page with the story of  how Gretchen and Ansel lost their sister to the witch in the forest when they were young. Pearce kept me engaged with the depth of detail in her writing and her smooth story telling.

After both of their biological parents die, Ansel and Gretchen stepmother kicks them out, sending them off on a quest to start over. Gretchen has been living in the shadow of her sister -- a girl whose name hasn't even been mentioned in years -- and she feels like part of herself is missing. She is the half that survived, and for years she has wondered why. Why wasn't she the one who was taken?

When their car breaks down in Live Oak, South Carolina, the siblings believe they've hit a streak of bad luck. Busted car, no cash, and everyone in town is treating them like pariahs. The plan is for Ansel to do some work for the owner of the local chocolate shop, Sophia Kelly, but plans quickly change as he and Gretchen become attached to her. Their unplanned detour and newfound friend may be just what they needed to leave their old lives behind.

But just as Gretchen gets comfortable her fear of the woods comes roaring back. Girls have gone missing in the tight-knit southern town and it's all too eerily familiar for Gretchen. Enter Samuel Reynolds, who saves Gretchen from a brush with death and the witch she thought she left behind in Washington years ago and gives her the chance to stamp down her fear for good.

Sweetly held true to the slow build that classic fairytales tend to have, yet the pace felt off somehow. I wanted more action. Things got intense occasionally, but intrigue prevailed. My interest was often piqued and still there was no payoff. I thought that if I held out and absorbed all the clues that the end would be worth the wait. Like a good mystery novel, I was waiting for the big reveal. That aha moment when it all comes together.

If you've ever read a well constructed mystery novel then you know what I'm talking about. The story held me because it was beautifully written and carefully pieced together like a complex mosaic, but I didn't feel my heart racing as the bigger picture was revealed. In fact, with the exception of one small facet (which I won't reveal to avoid spoilery), I predicted the plot twist well before the characters put it all together. Perceptive readers will likely do the same.

That being said, I did thoroughly enjoy the Sweetly. Some of the smaller reveals in the story are very emotional moments, including Gretchen's realization about the witch and Sophia's confession. Watching Gretchen and Samuel's relationship unfold was one of my favorite parts of the book. They are two extremely guarded people who very slowly, over the course of the novel, dare to be vulnerable with each other. The brief moments they share early on are pure magic and the trust built between them is unshakable.

Despite a somewhat predictable plot, Sweetly is such a multi-faceted book that is definitely worth a read. It's difficult not to become invested in these characters and the relationships they build and destroy.

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