Last fall a publisher sent me a review copy of Stolen, a middle-grade novel by Vivian Vande Velde. I would probably have picked up the book sooner but for the cover: the spooky-scary black-and-white image of wickedly clawed witch’s hands looked like something out of The Blair Witch Project and gave me the impression this was a creepy horror novel. It isn’t. It’s actually a kind of cross between fairy tale and mystery, and I enjoyed it a great deal once I finally stopped judging it by its cover.
The novel opens with a bang: a group of villagers are burning down the house of the “old witch” who lives in the woods at the edge of the village. She is believed to have stolen a baby, and indeed she takes a baby with her when she makes a hurried escape out a back window. The house burns to the ground, and there is no sign of either witch or infant. But on the same day, a twelve-year-old girl appears in the woods, lost and disoriented. She does not know who she is, not even her own name. Kindly villagers take her in and tend to her wounds—she was attacked by a hunting dog, but the injury is not severe—and the old couple’s six-year-old granddaughter is convinced that this lost girl must be another of the witch’s kidnapping victims who managed to escape in the confusion. Indeed, another young girl disappeared some years back, and this lost girl is exactly the right age to be the long-lost Isabelle.
Isabelle’s parents come to claim her, but her re-entry to home life is not easy. She remembers nothing; neither her mother’s tearful embraces nor her older sister’s sharp tongue sparks any hint of memory. That older sister, Honey, seems suspicious and hostile toward Isabelle. Isabelle searches for some kind of connection to her old life and wonders if there is really anything left of “Isabelle” at all, since she can’t remember any of the people around her or the stories they tell. If you don’t remember anything about yourself, are you really you?
The narrative moves quickly, and even though I thought I’d figured out the mystery, there were twists I didn’t expect. I think Jane will enjoy this one, and maybe Rose, though there’s a plot point I anticipate will trouble her somewhat and will generate a big discussion. I can’t say more without giving away the book’s secrets, but maybe later I can do another post with big spoiler alerts plastered all over it.
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