After the mysterious and tragic disappearance of their father, sisters Snow and Rose are forced to move with their mother to an old cabin in the woods. The girls soon venture into the depths of the forest where they find a host of strange and magical things: a cozy house buried in the ground, a library of found objects, a bear with kind eyes injured in a hunter’s trap, and a little man with oddly bent legs whom they repeatedly rescue from bizarre situations. Here lies the strength of this story – it is fantastic in the way of all good fairy tales, with richly imagined details.
When I’m reading children’s or YA books, I sometimes like to imagine how I would have reacted if I’d read the book when I was young. In youth it is possible to become so lost in a book that you momentarily forget your physical existence. I imagine this is the kind of book that will entrance young readers to the point they lose themselves in the pages. In the spirit of so many fairy tales before it, young readers may be forever after intrigued by forbidding forests.
If I review this book through the filter of adulthood, I find several things worthy of criticism. The dialogue is a bit stilted, at times. Occasionally, transition from one plot point to the next is jumpy and jarring. The story is sprinkled throughout with brief, one page interludes from “the trees”, which in an oracle style hint at what is to come. Personally, I found the inclusion of the trees as a foreshadowing device too convenient. Most perturbing, the story concludes far too rapidly and neatly. The crux of the main conflict is established, and in a blink all is resolved. I wish the ending had drawn out with a touch more danger and suspense. Instead, both the build of conflict and the resolution felt slightly casual. If there is something big at stake, the reader doesn’t have much time to feel the weight of potential doom.
It is easy to ignore such elements though, as this book is so exquisitely designed. Reading the hardback, first edition, the pages have a lovely weight to them. There are beautiful illustrations throughout, including little floral flourishes under each chapter heading. The interludes from the trees come in white text on a black page, which nicely offsets the rest of the story in traditional black text upon white pages.
It is an excellent book for elementary-school-aged children, who will most likely love the story. And though I found some plot elements underdeveloped, the overall narrative tone is strong, and most definitely rooted in fairy tale tradition.