In this latest novel by a prolific author of YA fiction, a teenager’s life spirals out of control as she desperately attempts to evade the savage manifestation of her fear.
Not even high school is safe for Milly Malone, a 15-year-old who must engage in a never-ending battle to keep an evil wolf at bay using her only magic spell. Before she passes by or through a door, takes a bite of food, or speaks, she must count to 100 to stay “on safety’s slender path,” or the wolf of the Dark Wood will wreak havoc. But Milly’s spell is weakening, and when she trips before finishing a count, the Dark Wood engulfs her. This deeply observant and empathic tale isn’t spinning readers into a realm of the supernatural. Stewart (Keep in a Cold, Dark Place, 2017, etc), author of fiction and nonfiction for children, teens, and adults, instead weaves threads of unsettling fairy tales into something achingly real: the first-person narrative of a young girl’s crippling descent into obsessive thinking. After her collapse, Milly is followed by her wolf to a pediatric psychiatry ward. It prowls through her therapy sessions, daily routines, and interactions with the other memorably drawn, authentic, and ethnically and racially diverse teen patients. Milly views her life and those around her through a prism of fairy tales (a tie to her dead mother), and Stewart punctuates the gritty, funny, heart-wrenching narrative with a reshaping of more obscure and unsettling stories by the Brothers Grimm. The wolf’s hot breath and claws feel as real to readers as they do to Milly, but who, or what, is the wolf? The barrier to Milly’s recovery finally crumbles with her realization of the beast’s real-world identity, a disturbing insight bringing hope in its wake. The author doesn’t sugarcoat Milly’s hospital environment. Unpleasant encounters, challenges, and setbacks for both the young patients and staff ring true, as do the breakthroughs, humor, and evolving relationships. At its core, Stewart’s memorably inventive novel destigmatizes mental illness and sends a message that seeking help can make life better.
A deeply affecting, hard-to-put-down work that depicts a girl’s dark odyssey through obsession toward healing insight.