by Adam Gidwitz
* * * Stars (Pretty good)
Hansel and Gretel are royal siblings, born to royal parents who chop their heads off (they’re fine, don’t worry!) to show their loyalty to their steadfast servant, Faithful Johannes. When the children find out what their parents have done, they run away (to find better parents – ones who aren’t likely to separate their heads from their shoulders) – to the woods where they move in with the woman (familiar to most of us as ‘the witch’) with the delicious house (who just so happens to like children – to eat – more than anything). After foiling her plans (for dinner), the children find another family that seems to want them, but when they willingly give up their seven sons (who are magically transformed into sparrows) in order to take Hansel and Gretel in, the children feel terrible and go off on a quest to bring them back. Gretel ends up chopping off her own finger to rescue the sons. The children’s further adventures include a short stay in a wild wood (where Hansel turns into a beast), a trip down to Hell, an encounter with a serial killer, and, eventually, a return home, where they defeat the terrible dragon that has been laying waste to their kingdom. The original tales recorded by the brothers Grimm were often violent and disturbing. Over the years they’ve been rewritten and altered to be more child-friendly (or ‘boring’). Adam Gidwitz puts the horror back in this retelling of Hansel and Gretel – and you’ve probably never heard this version before. Throughout the narrative, the author issues warnings whenever things are about to get gruesome (so that any sensitive children can leave the room, or plug their ears). He also takes a lot of pleasure in faking out his readers by continuing the story just when you think it’s come to an end (though, obviously, there’s got to be more when you’re only a few pages in). This retelling definitely makes Hansel and Gretel much more interesting as characters (and their adventures aren’t bad either). Adam Gidwitz would say that it’s not for the squeamish, but in reality, he doesn’t dwell overmuch on the gore or the violence. And, there are, after all, ample warnings!
Reviewed by Young Adult Librarian