Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

This is another ARC I got from the ALA conference in New Orleans. Neither the cover nor the back description appealed to me that much (also take note that the cover is not necessarily the final cover the publishing company will use), but one of the people working for that publishing company (Hyperion/Disney Book Group) really talked me into this one. I’m a librarian. When I tell someone I think they will like a book, and book talk it up, I like to think they listen and will take note of it. And vice versa, when someone takes the time (and this lady took the time) to book talk a book to me, I take note. Plus, how bad could a free YA witch book be?
Unfortunately, I thought it was kind of bad. I wish I knew the woman’s name who recommended it to me though, because she still gets major points from me for being able to book talk so well, a skill not many librarians even have. Really, she should get a raise!
The book is about a girl named Lexi, who has grown up in a secluded village hearing stories and legends about the Near witch. Lexi’s town/village, Near, is not exactly known for its acceptance of witches. According to one version/the truer version of the story that Lexi hears from two older sisters/witches who live on the outskirts of Near, a boy was found dead in the Near Witch’s garden, and Near retaliated by killing her, even though the boy didn’t die at the witch’s hands.
The real story starts when a boy stranger (Cole) comes to town (something unheard of for some reason), and the next day children start disappearing. Near then suspects the stranger to be the culprit. Lexi knows otherwise. She befriends him, learns his heartbreaking story, and then falls in love with him. Together, she and Cole do their own search for the missing children.  Soon, though it becomes clear that Cole has his own witch-like abilities, and it’s not just about clearing his name from the kidnappings any more. It’s a story about jumping to conclusions, about always needing someone to blame, and about love.
The whole thing was too predicable for me. You pretty much know the end, about 20 pages in. It was hard for me to get an adequate image of Lexi in my head because I feel like the author couldn’t decide on her right age. Sometimes she seemed like she was a teenager, and sometimes she was just too young for me! And it was hard getting into the romantic kissing moments when my image of the main character was sort of a 9-year old. I get that this book takes place in a different time (yet I don’t know when) and possibly a different world (yet I don’t know where) but still, Lexi seemed a little dumbed down to me, like the author was trying to make her sound youthful. I hate when YA authors do this. The character’s voice needs to be natural, and if it’s a little older than you think, that’s okay. This young voice was forced too much here, and it made the whole thing not as good as it could have been. Maybe she should have made Lexi be 9 or 10, and made her relationship with Cole purely a friendship type relationship. I think I would have liked that more, and have had a clearer sense and belief in the main character.
Generally, I love redone fairy tale type stories, but for a redone tale to be successful, there needs to be something unique about it, something that makes the tale worth retelling. And I guess that was my major issue with the book. It was too much like the latest Red Riding Hood movie. The movie was okay on the surface, and pretty to look at, but overall there was nothing new, and nothing different about the story, to keep me that interested in the plot. The idea of witch hunting/witch trials is even something I have always been interested in. Maybe it would have been better if a time/real place were given so at least there’d be some historical context.
Also, a lot of the final conflict in the book (all the stuff that Cole did to help save the day) was brushed over, and very lightly summarized. There was so much build up at the end that I think this was actually the most disappointing aspect. The book is good with random details, random description, yet when it finally came to an important moment, all the description and details were missing. And seemingly important details were missing throughout the whole story. Like why did the town never get any visitors/strangers? I kept asking this question, but it never got answered and it took away my ability to appreciate other good things. And I didn’t find the ending that believable. It felt rushed. It was kind of like if the Harry Potter books ended without the final battle, but just with the happy epilogue.
I didn’t despise the book. Something I did really enjoy was the connection between Cole and Lexi (despite a lack of clear age). They connected because they both have lived through terrible loss. In other words, it wasn’t just a physical thing like it is with other YA love birds; they connected on a mental level. And I liked the legends/idea that stories are always changing. I also liked that Lexi kept defying all the men in her life, resorting to sneaking out, wearing mens’ boots, and punching certain jerks in the face.
This was not my favorite book. I feel like it has promise, but needs a lot of work, and I’m glad I didn’t have to pay for it. I give it a 4/10.

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