by Adam Gidwitz
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
In this mischievous and utterly original debut, Hansel and Gretel walk out of their own story and into eight other classic Grimm-inspired tales. As readers follow the siblings through a forest brimming with menacing foes, they learn the true story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches.
Fairy tales have never been more irreverent or subversive as Hansel and Gretel learn to take charge of their destinies and become the clever architects of their own happily ever after.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
While I do like a good fairytale retelling, and I appreciate what the author tried to do here, I just wasn't feeling this one. Perhaps it was just too young for me... or perhaps the moral fell flat for me (because this book comes across as a little preachy at times).
The author took the story of Hansel and Gretel and wove it together with a number of other stories by the Brothers Grimm. That was an interesting idea, and I'll give the author credit for that. However, I do sort of question the appropriateness of Grimm stories as the basis for a middle-grade novel. There is a lot of blood and gore. Beheadings. Amputations. Boiling in oil. Add to that the fact that the framing device is the story of two murderous children, and I'm kind of scratching my head as to why anyone would think this was a good idea.
It's not a long book, but it seemed to take forever to get through. The writing is okay, but nothing special. The author is a fan of said bookisms, while I'm most assuredly not. The story is supposed to be like an old-fashioned fairytale, and yet there were numerous instances where very modern expressions popped up, which were distracting. And, through it all, the author repeatedly interjects, usually to tell the reader to remove young children from the room because something gory is coming up. I'm not sure whether I liked that or not. On the one hand, it disrupted the flow of the narrative. On the other hand, it provided some much-needed relief from the tiresome characters.
The characters are the book's biggest weakness. You know how in fairytales you don't generally know much about a character, other than one or two personality traits and their basic physical appearance? Well, that's what we got here. In fact, I think my favourite character in the whole book is the Devil's grandmother, simply because she's unexpected and provides some comic relief. The king and queen (Hansel and Gretel's parents) are awful people. Murderers, in fact. Hansel does little but make a mess of things and not listen to his sister. Gretel is the voice of wisdom and reason, but she quickly becomes tiresome.
The moral of the story (that children's lives are more valuable because they are innocent and wise and adults' lives are expendable because they're evil and stupid) makes no sense, especially in light of how the story ended (psst, Mr. Gidwitz... children do eventually grow up). I guess kids might like such a sentiment, but as an adult, I found it absurd -- and just a bit insulting.
When I was a child, my mom used to read to me and my sister all the time. She never liked reading us the story of Hansel and Gretel, though. She'd always say it was a story about a couple of thieves and murderers. Adam Gidwitz has managed to take that to a whole new level with this book!
But before he left, the Devil announced that he could not find his glasses. He was furious, for he could barely see without them. "I hardly recognize you, Grandmother!" he shouted. "Where in Hell did I put them?"
"Devil knows!" his grandmother said.
"No, he doesn't!" he shouted. Eventually he stormed out of the house without his glasses, grumbling about telling one sinner from another and wasting a perfectly good day of damnation.
Recommended to: die-hard fairytale retelling fans
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Overall Rating: 2.57 out of 5 ladybugs