Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
It’s not hard to see why this one won the Newbery medal this year. It’s head and shoulders above all the books I’ve read recently. It’s hard to know where to start with this one. It’s the story of a town who every year leaves the newest born baby in the woods as a sacrifice to the witch. But we also hear the story from the witch’s point of view, which is that she has no idea why the babies are abandoned and so she brings them to other towns, to loving families who adopt the children. One year, the witch finds herself unable to let go of a baby, and raises her as her own granddaughter, but mistakenly feeds the girl moonlight which enmagicks the girl. Eventually, the witch has to subdue the wild, powerful girl, a spell that will break when she turns 13. In the meantime, the stories of the girl’s mother, a young man and another old witch from the town, and the swamp monster and dragon who are the girl’s other family members, converge in an epic showdown in the woods. The rhythm of the narrative has a classic, timeless feel that will ensure its staying power.
Young readers will likely miss the political allegory, though by the time they are rereading with adult eyes, there will surely be a new situation to apply it to. It’s ultimately the story (or several stories) of love and hope and democracy triumphing over oppression and sorrow and fear and authoritarianism. There are many, many beautiful lines, not least of which is an exchange about the library:
“‘The Tower is meant to be a center for learning, not a tool of tyranny. Today the doors are opening.’
‘Even the library?’ Wyn said hopefully.
‘Especially the library. Knowledge is powerful, but it is a terrible power when it is hoarded and hidden. Today, knowledge is for everyone.’ She hooked her arm in Wyn’s, and they hurried through the tower, unlocking doors.” (p.312).