I love fairy tales. I love the old ones, the sanitized for your child’s protection ones, the Disney ones (same thing), and especially the retellings. Myths, tales, folk lore, faerie, urban lore… it’s my favorite genre.
This book is wonderful.
It’s the middle of WWI but 12 year old David is safe in England, where he mourns the death of his mother. As her sickness slowly consumed her, he retreats into his books. She loved to read and he hangs on to the pages to keep her memory strong.
His father turns to another woman to ease the pain and suddenly David finds himself in a new house with a new mother and a new brother.
And he starts to go mad.
Books that once comforted him are now whispering to him. He begins to have fits. He hears his mother calling to him. He’s miserable and alone and the Crooked Man creeps in.
Hearing his mother calling to him from the garden, David goes to her in the middle of the night and finds himself in Once Upon A Time. This is a world he recognizes, complete with a kind Woodsman who saves him from the werewolves that are slowly taking over the land. (I loved the Red Riding Hood version told here.)
David must begin his journey to find his mother, find the king who no longer has control, and find a way home.
During his travels he encounters all sorts of tales and he recognizes them from his books. Still, he doesn’t know the answers. All he knows it that the Crooked Man wants him and his mother keeps calling to him.
He travels the hero’s journey motif and the tales begin to change him. He tries to piece bits together while the Crooked Man tries to trick them apart.
When he finally finds the king, he learns the secrets of the land and must battle for survival and find the way home.
Classic structure, classic characters, familiar themes, yet an entirely new feeling. I love when an author gets a retelling just right.
While I was reading this I was trying to figure out the “appropriate” age level. I’m not a fan of telling kids what they should or should not read. A lot of what I read when I was young went right over my head. I’ve picked up books as an adult and realized that there was a whole lot of other things happening that were so far out of my understanding that I didn’t even catch whispers of them. But this book gave me the creeps when I thought of a young’un reading it, and I’m not sure why. The Crooked Man steals childhood innocence. Connolly does a great job showing how he destroys their hearts and souls and how he torments adults who cross him as well. I wonder how much would go over a kid’s head and how much would seep in, giving the Crooked Man a chance to appear.
It’s weird to read a book and enjoy it while at the same time trying to figure out a rating system. Fairy tales are often gruesome and dangerous and perhaps I’m being too sentimental about what kids know or don’t, but I feel like this one should stay on the shelf until sixth grade or so. It’s a wonderful story, but perhaps waiting until a kid is closer to David’s age would be good.
If you’re a grown up though… jump in.
Just beware of the big teeth.