Where the Woods End

304p. Dial. Aug. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780735229235.
Gr 6–10—Deep in a nightmarish forest, scrappy Kestrel defends her isolated village from monsters, armed with a spoon, a book, and her talking weasel sidekick. This action-packed novel has plenty of twists, the biggest of which is the psychological insight into its protagonist. Kestrel's search-and-destroy mentality initially seems like a dark inversion of Pokémon, channeling a "gotta kill them all" mentality. But Kestrel is mostly after Grabbers, who steal mementos to create bodies that embody their victim's worst fear. Kestrel survives because her fears are so complex: she struggles to reinterpret her mother and grandmother's abuse as hero training and her father's abandonment as protection. While Kestrel's exciting but simplistic monster hunts seem to empower her, they also make her an outcast from the village she seeks to protect. She can only free herself when she turns inward, to challenge her mother and her own punishing self-narrative. Although Kestrel, her family, the monsters, and the forest are intensely realized, the villagers and the village feel generic. The Salty Bog and the Marrow Orchard are viscerally terrifying, but stray references to museums and dentists threaten to break the spell.
VERDICT Gorier than Gaiman, this novel is not for the faint of heart but packs a surprising emotional punch. Buy where complex horror-fantasy for young teens is in demand.

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