School Library Journal
Gr 7–10—Lexi Harris, 16, has heard the legend of the Near Witch all her life. She and her sister live with their mother and overprotective Uncle Otto. Upon waking one morning, they find out that an unwelcome stranger has come to town. Lexi can't help but think that she saw him the night before in the form of smoke outside her window. Who is this mysterious person and why is he blamed after children go missing in the town of Near? The town witches, Magda and Dreska Thorne, are convinced that it is the Near Witch seeking revenge and must convince the oppressive men of the town that the culprit is not the stranger. Part fairy tale, part legend with a little romance, this well-written mystery will capture the attention of teens even though it may take a few chapters, and readers may feel uncertain as to when the story is taking place. Lexi and Cole, the name she gives the stranger, have chemistry and an innocent relationship that readers will enjoy seeing develop. The ending of the story is intense, and young adults will read frantically to discover the outcome.—Karen Alexander, Lake Fenton High School, Linden, MI
Schwab's first book is more poetry than prose, concerned above all with the moor, the night, and the wind. Lexi Harris wants to be "of" the moor, but she's not sure how. Her father, who she thought held the secret, is dead, her mother is withdrawn, and her brutish uncle Otto is unsympathetic to Lexi's aspirations. He'd like to see her dressed like a "proper" girl, responsive to the advances of Tyler Ward; Lexi would rather buckle on her father's hunting knife and visit the witch sisters, Magda and Dreska Thorne. When a stranger comes to the village of Near, and children begin vanishing from their beds, Lexi is determined to solve the mystery—the more so because she's certain that the stranger is not to blame. Schwab puts more emphasis on mood than on plot; her characters are types, intriguingly sketched but underdeveloped. The details of the world of Near are likewise hints and tropes, and Schwab's use of present-tense, first-person narration heightens the sense of unreality, as though Lexi is less a fully realized person than a character the reader inhabits in a dream. Ages 12–up. (Aug.)
ALAN Review - Rachel Van Dyke
A child is missing in the town of Near, a mysterious place that bears the legacy of witchcraft. Town leaders suspect a young male stranger whose arrival in Near coincides with the disappearance of the child, but Lexi Harris, a spitfire girl who is determined to find answers, befriends the young man, Cole, and is sure he has nothing to do with the kidnapping. As the nights go by, more children disappear from their beds and hostility grows toward the stranger. Lexi persists in her search for answers and discovers more about Near than she might like to know as she is led down a trail of history to the true story of the Near Witch. Schwab's storytelling is rich with descriptive detail, and students, particularly female students, will identify with Lexi, who is frustrated by the limits set upon her by the adults in her life. She is anxious to be free from stereotypes of what a girl "should" be. Reviewer: Rachel Van Dyke
Children's Literature - Shirley Nelson
Sixteen-year-old Lexi sees someone at the edge of the village as she is looking out her window one night. But there are no strangers in Near, and no one ever passes through, so she must have been mistaken. Or was she? When a child is missing the next morning, others claim to have seen the stranger, too. Immediately, they blame him. Lexi is not so sure. She remembers the old stories her father once told her, and she goes to visit the elderly sisters who live outside the village. There, she discovers the stranger, an intriguing young man. Children continue to disappear, and while Lexi fears for her younger sister Wren, she is also determined to prove that the stranger whom she has named Cole is innocent. Drawing on the memory of her father and his storytelling leads Lexi to convince the sisters to tell her the complete story of the Near Witch. Wren says that her friends come to her in the night and beg her to come play with them, but she is protected by a charm given to her by the sisters. Determined to protect Wren and find the other children, Lexi and Cole fight against the entire village to learn the truth. Has the legendary witch come back to steal the village children? This chilling tale will appeal to those who enjoy spooky stories. Reviewer: Shirley Nelson
VOYA - Erika Sogge
Victoria Schwab skillfully combines mystery, adventure, and romance in her debut novel The Near Witch. The town of Near, a small village nestled on the moors, has not had any strangers in town as long as anyone can remember. When a stranger shows up one day and children start disappearing the next day, everyone in the town is immediately suspicious. Everyone, that is, except for the smart and headstrong protagonist, Lexi. While other villagers jump to conclusions, Lexi wants to use the hunting and tracking skills she learned from her father to venture to the moors outside the village and find out what is really happening with the stranger and the missing children. As Lexi tries to figure out the truth, she is drawn to learn more about the town's history of witches and learns that folktales are often based on true tales. While this book may be filed under the new paranormal romance genre, to do so ignores the complexity of this book. At its heart, this book is an exploration of the power of folktales, the influence of the past on the present, and the ways communities change (or stagnate) over time. While appropriate for students in grades seven and eight, the complex themes make this book best for high school students. Although the themes are complex, the plot is easy to follow and the characters are well-developed. Young adults who like fantasy may find this book particularly appealing as it does involve witches; however, the adventure and romance aspects of the book make it appropriate for a wide audience. Reviewer: Erika Sogge
This highly atmospheric debut crackles with tension and has a shivery horror tang.
Lexi's late father taught her that witches are as good, bad and various as humans, so she trusts the witch sisters who live at the edge of her village; unlike most of the sullenly insular villagers, she doesn't blame a lurking stranger when children start disappearing. Each night, a village child hears the wind singing a tune and climbs out the window to play on the moor, vanishing before morning. Early on, the text is highly descriptive of the setting, dedicating almost too many words to the heathery moor hills and the wind that "sang me lullabies. Lilting, humming, high-pitched things, filling the space around me so that even when all seemed quiet, it wasn't." Soon, however, the wind and moor descriptions become retroactively crucial, weaving themselves into the content of the plot. As a mob mentality unfolds in the village, tracker Lexi works harder and harder to defend the stranger and find the children. Part mourning and healing tale, part restless ghost story, the strengths here are Lexi's sophisticated characterization (strong, sad, fiercely protective) and the extraordinary sense of place.
Set in an undefined past, this will appeal to fans of literarily haunting vibes and romance; readers who love it will go on toWuthering Heights.(Fantasy. 14-18)