The forest invites you in . . . but will never let you go.I love Jackson Pearce's Fairy Tale Retellings. Sweetly is a retelling of the classic Hansel & Gretel. It comes complete with the candy house, "witch", and the "fattening up" of the brother while the sister wants to leave. Sort of.
As a child, Gretchen's twin sister was taken by a witch in the woods. Ever since, Gretchen and her brother, Ansel, have felt the long branches of the witch's forest threatening to make them disappear too. Years later, when their stepmother casts Gretchen and Ansel out, they find themselves in sleepy Live Oak, South Carolina. They're invited to stay with Sophia Kelly, a beautiful candy maker who molds sugary magic: coveted treats that create confidence, bravery, and passion.
Life seems idyllic, and Gretchen and Ansel gradually forget their haunted past -- until Gretchen meets handsome local outcast Samuel. He tells her the witch isn't gone -- it's lurking in the forest, preying on girls after Live Oak's infamous chocolate festival each year, and looking to make Gretchen its next victim. Gretchen is determined to stop running and start fighting back. Yet, the further she investigates the mystery of what the witch is and how it chooses its victims, the more she wonders who the real monster is.
Gretchen is certain of only one thing: a monster is coming, and it will never go away hungry.
There are enough similarities in the two stories to consider it a re-telling. But it is definitely a modern, YA uptake on the children's story. Gretchen had a twin sister who was taken by a "witch" in the forest when they were little. I don't believe we learn her name until almost the end of the story (if I'm even remembering correctly). Ansel falls in love with the owner of the "candy house", Chocolatier Sofia Kelly. Now, her house is not literally made of candy, but there is definitely plenty of it to go around. And... he falls in love with her.
Now, she doesn't stuff him in the oven and try to eat him, but she does plan to offer up Gretchen to the "witches" we find out from Samuel are actually werewolves. I was a tad disappointed in that. BUT, there was an actual tie in with Sisters Red so it was easy to overlook the fact that there weren't ACTUAL yellow eyed old-lady witches in the story.
The small town seems typical of small (read: TINY) towns where everyone knows everyone and they all know your business. It's also an old town with a lot of old people who, once they're pissed at you they stay that way. Which is unfortunate for Sofia Kelly.
That part did bother me, however. She seems genuinely hurt that the towns people dislike her... because they believe she had something to do with the disappearance of their daughters after her Chocolate Festival for the last few years. She's upset when there aren't as many RSVPs as she was hoping for.
But I mean... can you blame the people? She really DID have something to do with their disappearances. And in a WAY worse way than the towns people can even fathom. So, while I can kind of understand her motives behind her actions (her sister Naida who was taken before hand and is being held captive by the "witches"), I do NOT understand her butt-hurtedness at the fact that some of the people in Live Oak can't STAND her. They really do have every right to their feelings and are, in fact, justified in them.
Ansel... love sick puppy. A rock for his sister, but a drooling love sick puppy. You've got to hand it to him though... he is definitely a "Knight in Shining Armor". He wants to save Sofia and he's been saving his sister their entire lives. Almost without regard to himself. But, the fact that he's a love sick puppy blinds him to the fact that there's something not right with his precious Chocolatier.
Gretchen. She's the oldest teenager I've ever read. Forced to grow up way beyond her years with the disappearance of her sister, the death of her father, and the subsequent disowning of her step-mother. I guess you could say Ansel was too, but when I read him I just picture him falling all over Sofia. Oy. Anyways. Gretchen has PTSD and rightly so. Even being near trees gives her anxiety like you wouldn't believe. She doesn't want to disappear (metaphorically and literally). She doesn't want to feel like she doesn't exist. But she's tired of being scared all the time. So she finds Samuel and decides to take her fate in to her own hands. She starts making things happen rather than being terrified of things happening TO her. Good for Gretchen.
And Samuel. Kind of the actual hero of the story in my opinion. The one who opened Gretchen's eyes to the reality of her "witches" and helped her overcome her fear of the forest to the point where she was able to take care of herself AND make the decision to try and protect the other girls of Live Oak.
It was a good book. Again, kind of disappointed about the werewolf thing but I liked the tie-in to the other novel. If you like retellings or contemporary fantasy (whether you know Hansel & Gretel or not), I definitely suggest you give this one a read.