A girl untangles family curses that cause desertion and bitterness—and transformation into beasts.
Thirteen-year-old Sarah’s life has always been unsettled; her parents move their three-person family often, always “sun-chasing” to avoid cold. One night Sarah’s mother tells her father that she’s leaving. The reasons that Sarah overhears are cryptic, and suddenly her mother’s gone. Sarah and Dad manage, barely (he forgets to shop for groceries, so it’s just peanut-butter sandwiches), and she’s distracted by an improbable teenage boy named Alan she meets in the nearby Not-a-Forest. But Dad’s changing. His wrists are hairier, his teeth lengthen, and he eats meat raw. Without explanation, he abruptly drops Sarah off at a damp, moldy castle with grandparents she never knew existed. Her grandfather’s a clawed, furred beast that seems to be an amalgam of bear, wolf and lion, and he’s caged. As Sarah confronts her family’s curses and the curses’ obscure terms, Hellisen’s narration is thoughtful and lyrical. Figurative prose is memorable yet never flashy: “The words fell out onto the table and flew away like dandelion seeds, never reaching him”; “a fiddlehead of apprehension unfurled in her chest.” Sarah’s hearing and smell sharpen; she races through forest and snow. “Beauty and the Beast” shimmers faintly underneath this story, but slant; the meanings here are multiple and surprisingly subtle.
A wild, unique fairy tale. (Fantasy. 10-14)