SWEETLY by Jackson Pearce
YA - Hardcover, 312 pages
Published August 23, 2011
SWEETLY is a modernization of Hansel and Gretel, and a companion book to Sisters Red (which I loved!). Just like in Sisters Red, the book kicks off with an intense, heart-stopping prologue, before settling in to guide you through a series of seemingly slow days in the south, filled with sweet tea and high temperatures.
Twelve years ago, Gretchen, her twin sister, and her brother went looking for a witch in the forest. They found something. Maybe it was a witch, maybe a monster, they aren’t sure—they were running too fast to tell. Either way, Gretchen’s twin sister was never seen again.
Years later, after being thrown out of their house, Gretchen and Ansel find themselves in Live Oak, South Carolina, a place on the verge of becoming a ghost town. They move in with Sophia Kelly, a young and beautiful chocolatier owner who opens not only her home, but her heart to Gretchen and Ansel.
Yet the witch isn’t gone—it’s here, lurking in the forests of Live Oak, preying on Live Oak girls every year after Sophia Kelly’s infamous chocolate festival. But Gretchen is determined to stop running from witches in the forest, and start fighting back. Alongside Samuel Reynolds, a boy as quick with a gun as he is a sarcastic remark, Gretchen digs deeper into the mystery of not only what the witch is, but how it chooses its victims. Yet the further she investigates, the more she finds herself wondering who the real monster is, and if love can be as deadly as it is beautiful.
Twelve years ago, Gretchen’s twin sister went missing in the woods, leaving Gretchen and Ansel behind to hopelessly explain how they lost track of her out there. Gretchen grew up referring to the yellow-eyed monster she saw that day as “the witch” and has lived in fear of the woods ever since.
When the siblings end up out on the road in search of a new home, they break down in the tiny town of Live Oak and end up settling in. Ansel gets work out at Sophia Kelly’s chocolate shop, and they stay with her in the rooms upstairs. Sophia is beautiful, mysterious, and very welcoming, and Ansel falls for her right away. Gretchen, however, while enjoying Sophia’s friendship and the close proximity to delicious chocolates, remains cautious and aims to solve the mystery of Sophia’s lonely life. When she discovers a link between their sister’s disappearance and the missing girls in Live Oak, Gretchen faces her fears and teams up with sarcastic, resident badass, Samuel Reynolds, to fight “the witch” instead of run from it.
While the build to the climax may seem slow, don’t be fooled. The ending is jarring and surprising and action-packed, and the chapters that came before are the perfect path to take you there. Gretchen’s personal growth, Ansel’s dedication to his sister, Sophia’s disturbingly sad story, and the swoon-worthy Samuel are the perfect cast of characters to bring what happens in Live Oak to life.
SWEETLY can stand alone, but the details are only enriched if you read Sisters Red first. The monster is the same, Samuel is a Reynolds just like Silas, and little clues you’ll remember from the previous book (like the importance of the color red) will pop up along the way. Either way, this is one not to miss, if only for the fantastic, surreal world-building, and presence of a girl who's more Buffy than damsel in distress.