“The endless forest was as dark as the back of a wolf’s throat.” So begins this terrifying tale of bravery, magic, and lies.
Within this infinite forest sits a village. Kestrel, 12, is the most hated person in this village, but the stalwart young hunter is the community’s only hope against the deadly grabbers, grotesque creatures that appear as their victims’ worst fears before devouring them. No one survives a grabber attack, not even Kestrel’s grandmother, the most fearsome hunter in the history of the forest, who trained Kestrel to push aside her fear and “deal with it later.” Kestrel dreams of escape; there must be a better life beyond the woods. However, her mother keeps Kestrel trapped with dark magic. She has the baby teeth of every villager, and when Kestrel disobeys, she punishes her daughter by magical proxy, grievously injuring someone else, but she’ll release Kestrel if she kills her grandmother’s grabber. Armed with a sharpened spoon (a brilliantly subverted symbol of submissive female domesticity) and accompanied by Pippit, a talking weasel, Kestrel braves the carnivorous Marrow Orchard, where body parts grow on bloody trees; makes a deal with the omniscient Briny Witch (who is male); and struggles with guilt over her role in her grandmother’s death. Kestrel’s earthy determination grounds readers as they navigate the myriad spooky details, braving even what makes her “guts shrivel.” The book adheres to the white default.
Deliciously shivery. (Fantasy. 8-13)