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HANSEL & GRETEL WEEK (1): Sweetly

Posted on Nov 21, 2011

Jackson Pearce
(Hodder Children’s Books)

When they were children , Gretchen’s identical twin sister was snatched while they and older brother Ansel were walking in the forest. Nobody knows what happened to her, but Gretchen vividly remembers being hunted by something big with yellow eyes and has always assumed  it was the witch that, according to legend, lived around those parts. Now many years later, with both parents dead of a broken heart and a step-mother that does not want them, Ansel and Gretchen hit the road, but break down in a small Southern town. Sophia, who owns a sweet shop just outside the town offers them lodging in exchange for their manual labour and so they decide to stay put for a while. For the first time in a long time they feel like they belong somewhere, despite the nasty rumours and accusations that seem to follow Sophia wherever she goes . But the forest is near and Gretchen feels its weight. Soon, Gretchen is forced to face her worst fear and with the help of outcast Samuel, she starts to build the strength and courage to protect herself and all the other girls of Live Oak from a hungry an blood-thirsty monster.

Sweetly is action-packed and a real pleasure to read. There is a healthy dose of paranormal, a good pinch of romance and a good sprinkle of dark and scary bits. I really enjoyed the characterisation in the story; the strong bond between Gretchen and Ansel is well developed, and they are both lovable characters. But Sophia was the real winner for me; I love a character that you can’t quite work out, and Jackson Pearce had me guessing about her until the very end.

I love fairy-tale retellings, particularly when the retelling brings some fresh and new to the original story. Many of the familiar ingredients of the original tale are here: the cottage of course, the evil within the forest, the wolves, the stepmother, the children disappearing never to return. But there is also an awful lot of original ideas in there too. This supports the theory of the seven stories (that there are only seven basic plots which are approached in differing ways): Sweetly might be inspired from Hansel and Gretel but Jackson Pearce has made the story her own, and has succeeded in transforming into a contemporary, pacy and exciting young adult novel.

Sweetly is linked to Jackson Pearce’s other novel Sisters Red as both feature the Fenris but it remains  a stand-alone and can be enjoyed without having read Sisters Red. However I bet, like me, you will be thoroughly tempted to read it afterwards!

It was whilst reading Sweetly that the idea of a Hansel & Gretel Week germinated, and therefore it is the opening review for this special week. I hope you will enjoy the rest of the week.

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