BOOK REPORT for Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow

Cover Story:
Unadulterated Fantasy
Adoption Certificate: Eventually
Swoonworthy Scale: 2
Talky Talk: Brothers Grimm
Bonus Factors: Worldbuilding, Feminism, Legends
Relationship Status: Rebound

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Sorrow


Cover Story:
Unadulterated Fantasy

This cover screams "FANTASY!" so hard, I'm surprised unicorns don't come running. The typeface! The mystical light! The vaguely ethnic girl in a tunic wielding magic! And then there's the White Hands—oh, you thought they were doves? Silly you. Those are OBVIOUSLY disembodied white hands. Plus, doves exist in real life and are therefore way too mundane to be featured on this COVER OF FANTASY.

The Deal:

Remember Parent Career Day in elementary school, when you'd bring in your mom or dad and they would tell your class all about their job? Sometimes it was boring stuff, like being a lawyer or an accountant, but occasionally, you would luck out with a fireman or a scientist.

Well, after reading Sorrow's Knot, I can't help but wish I'd had Otter in my class, just so her mom, Willow, could have come and told us all about her career as a binder. (That would have beat the crap out of the time my friend Collin's policeman father let us hold his handcuffs.)

See, it's Willow's job to keep the dead dead. In Westmost, a small, primarily female settlement in the forest, the dead have a nasty habit of coming back in three forms: the slip, a mindless blob that's only dangerous in large quantities; the gast, which vaguely resemble people; and, most rare and terrifying of all, the Ones with the White Hands, who can invade a body with one touch.

Using the magic of knots, binders can set up protective wards, drive the dead away and even heal people after an unfortunate run-in. It's an enormously difficult job, but it's one to which Otter has been aspiring her whole life. That is, until the day Willow breaks the one rule of binding and invites the dead to return. With the lives of Westmost at risk and her mother on the brink of insanity, Otter is suddenly thrust into the business of knots, but the more she learns, the less she knows. And the One with the White Hands is coming....

Adoption Certificate: Eventually

She's too young to be BFF material for me, but from the beginning, I felt for Otter. She's grown up in the shadow of her fierce, strange mother, and all of her choices have been made for her in this small bubble of a world. As a result, she lacks her own shape and purpose.

But then the shizz hit the fan. Almost overnight, Otter has to grow up and fend for herself, and out of the ashes of her former life, a determined survivor arises. It's not just about self-preservation, either. She's driven by a fierce love of her friends, Kestrel and Cricket, and that's ultimately why I'd like to take her home with me. While I never quite identified with Otter on an emotional level, her loyalty and bravery blew me away and left me with a desire to show her the same care that she shows to others.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2

Since this is a middle-grade book, there's not much action in the romance department. With that said, the bonds between certain characters are more intense than most adult marriages, and I didn't need kissing to tell me that their love, even at such a young age, was the real deal.

Talky Talk: Brothers Grimm

Erin Bow doesn't just dip her toe in the waters of fantasy—she dives right in and pulls you along with her. The submersion into Otter's world can take a little getting used to, especially given the distinct culture and dialect, but the dynamic imagination behind it keeps you afloat. Bow's style feels ancient in a sacred way, like folklore passed down in whispers over fires and under moonless nights. Her writing embraces color just as vividly as darkness, and the sense of wonder that results can be exhilarating (and, at times, downright scary).

But unlike Bow's previous novel, Plain Kate, this book lacks emotional resonance. I found myself invested in the plot but not in the characters themselves, possibly because they felt like characters rather than living, breathing people. In reaching fantastical heights, Bow's storytelling unfortunately weakens the connection between her heroine and the reader.

Bonus Factor: Worldbuilding

Bow excels in both the large- and small-scale aspects of crafting a universe. From the history of the land to the details of Westmost clothing, Otter's world is rich and compelling, and I found myself wishing for a video game adaptation, just so I could wander around, exploring the creepy burial ground, practicing knots and interacting with (and punching a few of) the townspeople.

Bonus Factor: Feminism

Westmost is run by women, and if you're a boy, you pretty much get kicked out at puberty. In fact, males are viewed as relatively worthless, because women do all of the important stuff, including hunting, security, and, of course, binding. It's great to see Otter's evolution into a strong female be the rule, not the exception.

Bonus Factor: Legends

Like any civilization, the people of Westmost cherish the stories from their past. And there's one in particular, about a binder named Mad Spider, that carries a great amount of significance. Not to mention the fact that, like any good tall tale, it's totally bonkers.

Casting Call: 


Amandla Stenberg as Otter

Relationship Status: Rebound

It's been a few years since my relationship with Plain Kate, but I still haven't gotten over its heartbreaking beauty. Consequently, I threw myself at Sorrow's Knot in the hopes that I could recapture the magic of my previous love. It was a great distraction from reality, and it's certainly a unique read, but I was just fooling myself to think that it could ever replace Plain Kate.

Sarah lives in Austin, TX, where she programs films at the Alamo Drafthouse. The founder of Forever Young Adult, she enjoys fancy cocktails, dance parties and anything that sparkles (except vampires).

Sorrow's Knot is available now.