Author: Victoria Schwab
Publication Date: 08/02/2011
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Source: ARC (Gifted from whatchyareading.net)
The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.It starts with a crack, a sputter, and a spark. The match hisses to life.
If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.
And there are no strangers in the town of Near.
There are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life. But when an actual stranger - a boy who seems to fade like smoke - appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.
The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him. As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi's need to know - about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.
The book begins with these two lines and the beginning of a tale that's circulated Near for generations. Lexi lights the match, picks up her father's worn journal, and begins to verbally retell the story that she and her sister, Wren, know by heart. The town of Near is settled near the edge of a moor, which is the heart of the story of the Near Witch; a story that whispers in the wind and, true or not, has a resounding effect on everyone who abides there. During this particular retelling she spies something outside the window. The something is a someone, a he, and is no one she's ever seen before.
The next day the story of a stranger in Near has everyone abuzz. The day after that the children start disappearing. Fingers are pointed, and Lexi, curious, finds herself ending up in the middle of something she could have never expected.
This book will almost literally sweep you off your feet into a world that's as beautiful and poignant as any fairy tale you may have read in your childhood. The prose is as lyrical as the wind within and just as memorable. Victoria Schwab does not write with words so much so as she paints and conducts with them an image in your mind, a melody that leaves behind a story. One of my favorite aspects was that we aren't given the entire tale of the Near Witch straight off - it's something that is played out over time and as necessary, so when more bits and pieces crop up you slowly begin to unravel what's happening. Similarly, while we aren't given extensive character backgrounds for everyone we meet in the book, the words that are there are used in such a wonderfully succinct fashion that they speak volumes. Case in point: we don't need to know so much about the elders of the village, but the things offered up are stated in such a way as to make them relevant to the overall story and just enough to understand where they fit in in interacting with the townspeople in Near.
I also loved learning the history of the town and seeing the relationship between Lexi and everyone around her develop. And the play on words that she does to name a character is so perfect, and becomes even more so later as things pick up. Lexi's a firecracker of a character, and what's more, she acts justly for what she believes to be the right thing, not shying away from the hard decisions in fear of what the consequences may be.
While things might start off slow (not at all in a bad connotation) and explorative, they quickly build up into something fast and curious that I found incredibly difficult to set down. I read this book on one sitting and it left my mind reeling in awe of the writing style, word choice, and gorgeous character and story composition. This is not just a book for children; if you enjoy fairy tales or a well-crafted piece in general then please give this book a try. You won't regret it.