Monday, January 9, 2012

The Near Witch Book Review

Author: Victoria Schwab. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Hyperion Book CH. ISBN: 9781423137876.
Annotation: After a mysterious stranger shows up in the small village of Near, children begin disappearing from their beds at night. Lexi is convinced that the disappearances have nothing to do with the stranger, a kind but distant boy named Cole, and are instead the work of the Near Witch who was brutally murdered by the townspeople hundreds of years earlier.
Personal thoughts:  I love historical fiction, ghost stories and fairy tales and The Near Witch seemed to be the perfect combination of the three! Victoria Schwab is a very talented author and her writing style really helped to transport the reader to the village of Near. I liked the relationship between Lexi and her sister Wren and her determination to protect and care for her sister. I also liked the slow but sweet romance between Lexi and Cole. While I don’t think the novel will appeal to readers who want something full of action or adventure, I definitely would recommend The Near Witch to anyone who enjoys quiet but intriguing mysteries.    
Plot summary: Like all the residents of the small village of Near, Lexi knows the legend of the Near Witch well: hundreds of years ago, a kind witch lived in Near and loved the children of the village. She could speak to the moor and control the winds and the rain and protected the village until the day she died. Most of Near thinks the story is an old wives tale, but Lexi, like her late-father, respects the story and the harsh but plentiful landscape of the moor that surrounds the village. One night, however, a mysterious stranger appears in the village. Curious about the handsome but haunted boy with dark eyes and pale skin, Lexi wants to learn more about how the stranger, whom she calls Cole, came to be in Near. Unfortunately, Cole’s arrival in the village occurs on the same night as the first of many children begin to go missing from Near. Lured from their beds by the wind, the townspeople are convinced that Cole is responsible for the disappearances. Lexi, however, knows that it is the work of the Near Witch who, despite what the legend says, was actually brutally murdered by the people of Near hundreds of years earlier. Desperate to protect her younger sister, Wren, and prove the innocence of Cole, Lexi must use the skills her father taught her to save the village from the wrath of the Near Witch.
Review:  Quiet but haunting, this debut novel from author Victoria Schwab paints a magical and unique fairy tale ghost story that thoughtful readers are sure to enjoy. Almost as important as the characters in the novel is the setting. The village of Near and the surrounding moor, a foggy grassland full of hills and valleys, play a major role in the story. Schwab does an excellent job of establishing the atmosphere of The Near Witch, describing in detail Lexi’s love and respect for her village and the moor and the importance of legend in Near. Although the time period is never stated in the novel, it is clear that the story takes place at some point in the past, likely the 19th century, when tales of witches and enchantments would still hold a great deal of meaning for people living in an isolated village. The disappearances of the children, the arrival of the mysterious strange, Cole, and the resurgence of the Near Witch all fit perfectly into the world that the author has so effectively crafted, creating an intriguing story that can be enjoyed by tweens, teens and adults alike.  
Genre: Fiction/Mystery
Reading level: Grade 6+
Similar titles: Sweetly and Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce.      
Themes:  Witches, kidnapping, legends, moor, historical fiction.  
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from best-selling authors Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl, Carrie Ryan, Kendare Blake and Michelle Hodkin.
Series Information: N/A     
Discussion questions: 
- Research more about moors and moorland. What is it? Where are these habitats located? How do you think the landscape helped tell the story?
- How did Lexi use the skills she learned from her father in the novel? Which do you think were the most helpful?
-   Do you think the village trusted the Thorne sisters? Why or why not? How did that change during the story?
- What did it mean for the Near Witch to be “of the moor”?  

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