Patrick Jennings / Author Hyperion Books for Children $15.99 (
Reflecting the tone of Grimms' fairy tales, this Depression-era novel about five runaway orphans is as dark as it is fantastical. Edith, the 15-year-old heroine of the story, is desperate to escape her fate of working her fingers to the bone for her cruel adoptive mother, Mrs. Smith, in a logging camp. Her opportunity to make a getaway arises after seeds she has planted (delivered by a seagull) grow into magical horses, which provide transportation for Edith as well as her four foster siblings, who are as eager to flee as Edith is. During the first leg of their journey, the travelers meet a witch-like hermit, who teaches them how to survive in the wilderness and conveys a thought-provoking message that ""death begets life."" As the old woman predicts, the children's horses do eventually wither and die, but their passengers go on to begin new lives. Jennings (Faith and the Electric Dogs; The Wolving Time) alluringly recreates classical fairy tale motifs (many of them rooted in the German Cinderella tale), but the plot of the story at times seems both forced and ambiguous. Allusions to incest (Edith's infatuation with one of her foster brothers, her molestation by her biological father, and her foster sister's impregnation by Mr. Smith) appear stuck in more for effect than for meaning. Although the children do form bonds with each other in the forest, their destinies remain uncertain once they re-enter civilization. Ages 10-up.
Reviewed on: 09/04/2006