My rating: 3.25 of 5 stars
I picked this up because it was recommended to readers who enjoyed A Tale Dark & Grimm on Amazon. I loved the humor and the quirky twist on the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel in A Tale Dark and Grimm, and I just plain love fairy tales, so I am looking for innovative, interesting retellings of these classic stories. I'm glad my library had this on audio. It was a fun and quick read, about 3 hours (It took me longer because I listened in spurts).
Initially, I was very drawn in. The characters of Sol and Connie are captivating, their story was somewhat poignant. I definitely felt for these kids. If you're familiar with Hansel and Gretel, you can get a head start on the storyline, although McGowan throws in some novel touches that were fun. I won't say which, because that's the fun of reading it. Sol is a young genius and inventor who gets a huge blow to his confidence that he has to work through. His mischievous, free-sprited, and intuitive sister Connie carries a burden of guilt related to Sol's greatest failure. This is a pivotal element of this story, and the author does carry it through successfully to the end. The story shows what the child-eating witch is up to in the modern age, and she's definitely streamlined her operation.
The child-eating witch is truly heinous. What makes it even more harrowing is that people actually volunteer their kids to be eaten because of the manifold failings of those kids! Definitely folks who shouldn't have reproduced! It's humorous, but on one level it's really kind of disturbing that parents would set their children up to be eaten by a witch just because they misbehave or fail to live up to certain standards. I think that they are even worse than the witch, honestly.
This is one of those books that won't appeal if you don't like a dark and kind of twisted sense of humor. Let me just say that here and now. But I think readers who like the Hansel and Gretel story won't find anything here that countermands the original story. Instead, this is just a modern update with more humor.
If there was anything I was underwhelmed with, it was the use of the secondary character who happened to be a witch as well, but she's a good witch. I understand why she couldn't help the kids very much, but I still feel she was underutilized in the story. I also wished there was some sort of confrontation between her and the evil witch. Also, I feel the ending was too abrupt. I know this is supposed to be a short book, but I wasn't fully satisfied with the ending. I definitely wanted more story and more closure.
Overall, this was pretty good. It's hard to rate it higher or to perform a very intensive analysis, because it's very short. I am glad this was recommended to me because I liked A Tale Dark and Grimm. However, it doesn't live up to the excellence of that book, and that's one caveat I would give any reader who is investigating humorous, middle grade/juvenile fairy tale retellings.
As far as suitability for young readers, I think it's fine for kids who are 8-12 (or older readers who like J/MG fiction). However, this would be too scary for a younger reader. Not that much is described, but the idea of a witch eating bad kids or even worse, their parents giving them away to the witch, is pretty disturbing, even for a much older reader like myself.
If you are able to get this on audiobook, I recommend it. I liked the narrator.
Overall rating: 3.25/5.0 stars.