Author: Jackson Pearce
Published: August 23, 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Series: Fairytale Retellings #2
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Retelling
Rating: 3.5 stars
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“I should be mad. I should hate her. I should judge her. But there is some madness in love.”My Thoughts
― Jackson Pearce, Sweetly
As a child, Gretchen's twin sister was taken by a witch in the woods. Ever since, Gretchen and her brother, Ansel, have felt the long branches of the witch's forest threatening to make them disappear, too.
Years later, when their stepmother casts Gretchen and Ansel out, they find themselves in sleepy Live Oak, South Carolina. They're invited to stay with Sophia Kelly, a beautiful candy maker who molds sugary magic: coveted treats that create confidence, bravery, and passion.
Life seems idyllic and Gretchen and Ansel gradually forget their haunted past -- until Gretchen meets handsome local outcast Samuel. He tells her the witch isn't gone -- it's lurking in the forest, preying on girls every year after Live Oak's infamous chocolate festival, and looking to make Gretchen its next victim. Gretchen is determined to stop running and start fighting back. Yet the further she investigates the mystery of what the witch is and how it chooses its victims, the more she wonders who the real monster is.
Gretchen is certain of only one thing: a monster is coming, and it will never go away hungry. (Goodreads)
It is official. I am a klutz. This week was all sorts of weird. Not only was I recovering from a nasty sinus infection, but, on top of that, I sprained my ankle because I am one of the clumsiest individuals ever, and I am apparently incapable of walking. I will not divulge the details of how I sprained my ankle because it's embarrassing and pathetic, but suffice it to say that it was painful. Fortunately, the discomfort of walking/hobbling around has minimized to an annoying throb so I am almost back to tip top shape. Yay! So onto book reviewing from the comfort of my couch...
Sweetly is a retelling of the classic fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. As I'm sure you all know, Hansel and Gretel is the tale of two siblings that find themselves lost in the woods and threatened by a cannibalistic witch that lives in a house made of sweets. It's a horrific tale that was recorded by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812. German folk tales seem to largely deal with the macabre and are most likely traumatizing to small children. But I will probably read The Grimm Fairytales to my children. Does that make me messed up in the head? Most definitely. But anywho, as with Sisters Red, Sweetly is a dark, gruesome tale that was inspired by Hansel and Gretel, but greatly deviates from the original tale's storyline.
In Sweetly, our protagonist is Gretchen, a teenage girl terrified of her own shadow ever since her twin sister disappeared in the woods when they were children. Gretchen is haunted by the past, and she finds it hard to move on when she has no idea what actually happened to her sister. This mystery has denied her of the closure she needs in order to live her life fully. Her older brother Ansel has always been her backbone, and they have relied heavily on each other throughout the years. When she and Ansel are kicked out of their childhood home by their stepmother, Gretchen sees this as an opportunity to escape the past, but the memories still follow her across the country.
I actually really liked Gretchen. She may have started off as completely dependent on her brother, but as her brother and her start to spend less time together, Gretchen begins to discover more about herself and what she wants in life. After witnessing so many oblivious protagonists finally stumbling onto the obvious, I appreciated Gretchen's lack of naiveté. After a troubled past, Gretchen has learned to trust in her instincts. She may want to see the best in people, but she doesn't simply dismiss a bad feeling. She knows when something's not quite right, and she gets to the bottom of it. Plus, she doesn't just sit back and let others defend her. She learns how to fight and defend herself so she doesn't vanish like her sister. She's one tough cookie, and I couldn't help but admire her.
As for Ansel, I found him to be wishy washy. He wasn't as fleshed out as Gretchen; in fact, I found him to be forgettable. He felt more like a secondary character than a main character, but I can accept this since the focus seemed to be more on the dynamics between Sophia and Gretchen. Sophia and Gretchen's friendship is formed on shaky foundations, considering both girls suffer from trust issues and insecurities. There is some romance between Sophia and Ansel, and I thought it was very sweet, but the tentative bond between Sophia and Gretchen was the most intriguing element of Sweetly. I was hoping and praying that things would go smoothly for these two and that they would become fast friends, but I felt uneasy from the beginning, terrified that things would eventually change.
While I loved the creepy factor of Sweetly, and how the dark, oppressive forest presented a constant threat, I can't help but wish that Sweetly had adopted more elements from the original tale. I don't expect every retelling to remain entirely faithful to the original, but I was hoping the book would present some darker twists instead of taking such a predictable route. I think I would have liked Sweetly more if it was a unique Hansel and Gretel retelling instead of a companion novel trying to tie in plot developments from Sisters Red. I think it needed to stand on its own more.
I will warn you that if you have a sweet tooth, you might want to have candy on hand while reading Sweetly. As the name suggests, there are so many delicious treats mentioned, as Sophia runs a candy shop. These sweets sounded heavenly and had me craving chocolate like crazy.
While Sweetly didn't stand out as a unique Hansel and Gretel retelling, it was still a suspenseful, chilling read that kept me reading on even if I wasn't fully invested. I fully intend to read Pearce's third Fairytale Retelling, Fathomless, in the future. It is a retelling of Han's Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid, and I'm anxious to see how Pearce reimagines this tale.