Plot summary: One sunny afternoon in the forest turns into a nightmare for Ansel and Gretchen when Gretchen’s twin sister is stolen by a witch. When the girl never returns, Ansel and Gretchen’s parents both eventually die from grief, leaving them to the care of their stepmother who throws them out of the house shortly after Gretchen turns eighteen. Not sure what the future holds, the pair head cross country in hopes of starting a new life. When they make it to South Carolina, Ansel’s Jeep gives out, and the pair find themselves in the town of Live Oak with only a few dollars to their name. Soon, they find themselves working for Sophia, a beautiful and charismatic candymaker who’s house and shop are on the outskirts of town. Ansel and Gretchen are useful in the chocolatier, and the three become fast friends. Gretchen is still haunted by the memories of her sister, however, and is plagued with fear of the woods surrounding Sophia’s house. Her fears are worsened when she learns that Live Oak has a terrible secret that seems to involve Sophia, a secret that sounds eerily similar to what happened to her sister years before. Could the witch have followed Ansel and Gretchen to their new home in Live Oak?
Review: This clever spin-off of the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel makes for a very entertaining and unique read that is scary at times but always enjoyable. The novel opens with Ansel and Gretchen as children playing in the woods with their sister, Gretchen’s identical twin. When their sister is stolen by a witch with golden eyes, Gretchen is haunted not only by memories of the terrible incident, but with guilt over the fact that she survived but her sister did not. When the pair wind up in Live Oak, South Carolina, the author does an excellent job of slowly building up the suspense over what will inevitably be another encounter with the witch from their past. One of the major ingredients in the sense of foreboding that the novel invokes are the forests surrounding the small town. Anyone with any sense of trepidation over forests will undoubtedly find what lurks within the trees unsettling and sometimes downright creepy. Pearce does an excellent job of taking the novel to some scary places, but never pushing it over the edge into pure horror. Overall, an original take on an old tale that readers are sure to enjoy.
Genre: Fairy Tale/Horror
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Entwined by Heather Dixon.
Themes: Hansel and Gretel, siblings, death, witches, werewolves, small towns, candy.
Awards/Reviews: Positive reviews from VOYA.
Series Information: Companion novel to Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, but not a sequel.
- This novel is a spin-off of the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel. What is your version of the old tale, and how would you create your own spin-off?
- Why do you think Ansel was not as consumed by the loss of his sister as Gretchen?
- Do you think that Sophia was the “patron saint of candy” or the “sign of Live Oak’s last days”? Did your perception change throughout the story?
- Why do you think Gretchen was so afraid of the woods? Was it more than just her fear of the witch?
- Were you surprised to learn the truth about the witch?