Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Twelve years ago, Gretchen, Ansel, and their sister were playing in the woods when their sister went missing. She was right next to them and then she was gone. Now, Gretchen and Ansel are on the road, kicked out by their stepmother. They randomly find themselves in Live Oak, South Carolina with a broken down car and practically no money. After being shunned by quite a few of the townspeople, they are directed to someone who is equally shunned, Sophia Kelly. She runs a candy shop and it's rumored that girls disappear after her festivals every year, never to be seen again. Gretchen and Ansel don't believe the rumors and are shocked by how welcoming and nice Sophia is. They settle into a routine and revel in having a home and a family. Gretchen is convinced that whatever is taking the girls at the festival is the same witch that took her sister. She's ready to stand and fight to avenge her sister and save any more girls from being victimized. Is Sophia somehow involved in the disappearances? Will Gretchen ever find out what happened to her sister?
Sweetly is a companion novel to Sisters Red, one of my favorite fairy tale retellings ever. They have none of the same characters, but as the book goes on, it becomes clear that there are definitely common elements. This is a modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel. Each character (except for the parents) are present, but fleshed out and modernized so they seem more like real people than flat fairy tale characters. Gretchen is much like Gretel because she always feels like that little girl that was left without a sister. The passage of time didn't do much to alleviate her pain or helplessness. This story is really one of her coming of age and growing from that helpless little girl into a strong woman willing to face her fears. This also parallels the original fairy tale as Hansel and Gretel leave their home as children, overcome a trial guided by nature, and return successful and rich to their family. I loved reading about Gretchen's journey. Sophia isn't what one would expect as the child eating witch from Hansel and Gretel. She's super sweet and welcoming, plus she makes the most delicious chocolates. I seriously had huge cravings for chocolate when reading Sweetly. But, underneath that sweetness, there is a bitter center that is stays hidden through most of the novel. These updated characters kept my interest and drew parallels to the original Grimm tale.
While I loved the characters and the writing, the plot dragged a little for me. Between the revelation about what happened to Gretchen's sister and the big finale, there was definitely a drag in the plot. It left me wondering when something big would happen without building any suspense. I also felt that the elements common with Sisters Red took away from the Hansel and Gretel story a little bit. In Sisters Red, I never forgot it was a Red Riding Hood story and the characters and plot played with the ideas and concepts throughout. Near the middle of Sweetly, I forgot it was even about Hansel and Gretel. It didn't have that strong bond with the original tale that I expected.
Despite some issues, I really enjoyed Sweetly. This retelling tapped into deep emotions of loss and sadness and brought the frightening and violent aspects that worked so well in Sisters Red. I am definitely going to read Fathomless, the next companion novel about The Little Mermaid. Jackson Pearce is a wonderful author and think she can reveal how dark the story really is.
My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins