The Near Witch by Victoria SchwabAugust 2, 2011; Hyperion Books
The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.
If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.
And there are no strangers in the town of Near.
These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.
But when an actual stranger—a boy who seems to fade like smoke—appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.
The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him.
As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know—about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.
Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab’s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won’t soon forget.
The Near Witch is many different stories. It is a high fantasy set long ago. It is in the style of a traditional folk tale. It is a story of a girl rebelling against the idea that she should be "ladylike." It is a tale of the love between a father and daughter, a mother and daughter, and between sisters. It is a burgeoning romance. It is a quintessential small-town book that showcases the nosiness, gossipyness, and superstitions of people who know each other too well and are closed off from the world.
You know the saying "correlation does not equal causation?" The Near villagers in this novel forgot that, as most of us do from time to time. When an unknown boy arrives in the town of Near, tongues start wagging. A new person is a cause for fear not celebration in this narrow minded, easily frightened community. These fears seem well-founded when local children begin disappearing in the night soon after the boy arrives.
Lexi does not succumb to fear. She seems to think and do the opposite of what everyone expects her to do, most of all her strict uncle. She senses that the stranger is not the demon people fear. Lexi strides off on her own to find the boy and discover the actual cause behind the children's disappearance. I loved Lexi. She is persistent and brave. She sticks to what she feels is right regardless of societal consequences. She has an innate sense of who to trust - even if those people are the town outcasts. She is caring and protective of her little sister.
Lexi's curiosity leads her to Cole. Curiosity soon turns into a partnership then friendship and then something more. Their romance was subtle yet sweet. I liked Cole very much. He always remains something of a mystery, but I enjoyed seeing his character slowly revealed to Lexi and to the reader. It's hard to put into words exactly what I liked about him. It was more of a feeling than anything else. I suppose one could argue that his character wasn't developed well enough. That may be true, but it wasn't crucial to the story. Cole was sufficiently developed and Lexi was extremely well developed. The quality of the plot, prose, and setting were more important than character development.
The prose in The Near Witch was stellar. It was beautiful, lyrical - literary quality. Through Schwab's words, I was transported to the dark, mysterious small town of Near. It read like the fairytales of old. I think it would make a great read-aloud. Even better, the prose never overshadowed the story. This often happens with books where the author clearly puts a lot of effort into "pretty writing." The story was slow, but consistently held my attention.
I'd definitely recommend The Near Witch for a classic folk tale.