The forest invites you in . . . but will never let you go.
As a child, Gretchen's twin sister was taken by a witch in the woods. Ever since, Gretchen and her brother, Ansel, have felt the long branches of the witch's forest threatening to make them disappear too.
Years later, when their stepmother casts Gretchen and Ansel out, they find themselves in sleepy Live Oak, South Carolina. They're invited to stay with Sophia Kelly, a beautiful candy maker who molds sugary magic: coveted treats that create confidence, bravery, and passion.
Life seems idyllic, and Gretchen and Ansel gradually forget their haunted past until Gretchen meets handsome local outcast Samuel. He tells her the witch isn't gone it's lurking in the forest, preying on girls after Live Oak's infamous chocolate festival each year, and looking to make Gretchen its next victim. Gretchen is determined to stop running and start fighting back. Yet, the further she investigates the mystery of what the witch is and how it chooses its victims, the more she wonders who the real monster is.
Gretchen is certain of only one thing: a monster is coming, and it will never go away hungry.
About the Author
Jackson Pearce is the author of Purity, Sisters Red, and As You Wish. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Read an Excerpt
By Pearce, Jackson
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2011 Pearce, Jackson
All right reserved.
(Twelve Years Ago)
The book said there was a witch in the woods.
That’s why they were among the thick trees to begin with—to find her. The three of them trudged along, weaving through the hemlocks and maples, long out of sight of their house, their father’s happy smiles, their mother’s soft hands.
A sharp ripping sound bounced through the trees. The boy whirled around.
“Sorry,” one of the girls said, though she clearly didn’t mean it. Her cheeks were still lined with baby fat and her hair was like broken sunlight, identical to the girl’s standing beside her. She held up the bag of chocolate candies that she’d just torn open. “You can have all the yellows, Ansel, if you want.”
“No one likes the yellows,” Ansel said, rolling his eyes.
“Mom does,” one of the twins argued, but he’d turned his back and couldn’t tell which one. That was how it normally was with them—they blended, so much so that you sometimes couldn’t tell if they were two people or the same person twice. The sister with the candy emptied a handful of them into her palm, picking out the yellows and dropping them as they continued to trudge forward.
“When we find the witch,” Ansel told his sisters, “if she chases us, we should split up. That way she can only eat one of us.”
“What if she catches me, though?” one of the girls asked, alarmed.
“Well, what if she catches me, Gretchen?” Ansel replied.
“You’re bigger. She should chase you,” the other sister told him, pouting. “That’s the way they work.” She was the only one who claimed to know the ways of witches—she was the one with the stories, the made-up maps, the pages and pages of books stored away in her head. She reached into her twin’s bag of candy and pegged Ansel in the back of the head with a yellow candy. He didn’t react, so she prepared to throw another one—
“Wait… do you know where we are?” he asked.
One of the twins raised her eyes to the forest canopy and scanned the closest tree trunks, while her sister turned slowly in the leaves. They knew these woods by heart but had never ventured quite so far before. The shadows from branches felt like strangers, the cracks and pops of nature turned eerie.
The twins simultaneously shook their heads and their brother nodded curtly, trying to hide the fact that being out so far made him uneasy. He hurried forward, eager to keep moving.
“Ansel? Wait!” one asked, and ran a little to close the space between them. “Are we lost?”
“Only a little,” he answered, jumping at the sound of a particularly loud falling branch. “Don’t be scared.”
“I’m not,” she lied. She began to wish she’d packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for their adventure, instead of two Barbies and a bag of candy, which Gretchen had almost finished off anyway. What if they were stuck out here past dinnertime?
“Besides,” Ansel said over his shoulder, “maybe she’ll be a good witch, like Glinda, and help us get unlost.”
“I thought you said she might want to eat us.”
“Well, maybe, but we won’t know until we find her. Unless you want to go back,” Ansel said. He didn’t entirely believe the stories about the witch, but his sisters did and he didn’t want to ruin it for them. Another pop in the woods made him jump; he shook off the nerves and sang their favorite song, one from a plastic record player that had been their father’s.
“In the Big Rock Candy Mountain, you never change your socks.” The twins began to hum along, adding words here or there, until they got to the line all three of them loved and they sang in unison.
“There’s a lake of stew and soda, too, in the Big Rock Candy Mountain!” The familiar words calmed them, made things fun again, as though their combined voices swept the fear away.
Ansel was about to begin another verse when a new noise came from farther in the forest—not a pop, not a crack, but a footstep. A slow, rolling foot on dried leaves, then another, then another. He grabbed his sisters’ hands, one of their sticky palms in each of his. The bag of candies fell to the ground and scattered, rainbow colors in the dead leaves.
They waited. There was nothing.
And yet there was something—there was something, something breathing, something dripping, something still and hard in the trees. Ansel’s eyes raced across the trunks, looking for whatever it was that he was certain, beyond all doubt, had its eyes locked on them.
“Who’s there?” Ansel shouted. His voice shook, and it made the twins quiver. Ansel was never scared. He was their big brother. He protected them from boys with sticks and thunderstorms.
But he was scared now, and they were torn between wonder and horror at the sight.
Nothing answered Ansel’s question. It got quieter. Birds stilled, trees silenced, breath stopped, his grip on his sisters’ hands tightened. It was still there, whatever it was, but it was motionless, waiting, waiting, waiting…
It finally spoke, a low, whispery voice, something that could be mistaken for wind in the trees, something that made Ansel’s throat dry. He couldn’t pick out the words—they were torn apart, and they were dark. Low, guttural, threatening.
The words stopped.
And it laughed.
Ansel squeezed his sisters’ hands and took off the way they had come. He yanked them along and ran fast as he could, over brush and under limbs. The twins screamed, a single high-pitched note that ripped through the trees and swam around Ansel’s head. He couldn’t look back, not without slowing.
It was behind them. Right behind them, chasing them.
Gretchen stumbled but held tightly to Ansel, let herself be dragged to her feet just as something grasped at her ankles, missed. They had to move faster; it was coming, crunching leaves, grabbing at the hems of their clothes.
It’s going to catch us.
The twins slowed Ansel down—their joined hands slowed everyone down. They’d promised to split up so the witch could eat only one of them, but now…
It’s going to catch us.
Ansel lightened his grip, just the smallest bit, and suddenly his hands were free and the three of them were sprinting through the trees. The thing behind them roared, an even darker version of the words they’d heard earlier.
Both twins knew the other couldn’t run much longer. Did Ansel know the way out?
On the ground, yellow candies. Ansel was following them, slicing around trees while the twins followed along desperately, eyes focused on finding the next piece, the trail back to the part of the forest they knew. The monster leapt for one of the twins, missed her, made a breathy, hissing sound of frustration. She dared to glance back.
Yellow, sick-looking eyes found hers.
She turned forward and sped up, faster than the others, driven by the yellow eyes that overpowered the sharp aches in her chest, her legs begging for rest. There was light ahead, shapes that weren’t trees. Their house, their house was close—the candy trail had worked. She couldn’t feel her feet anymore, her lungs were bursting, eyes watering, cheeks scratched, but there was the house.
They burst from the woods onto their cool lawn. Get inside, get inside. Ansel flung the back door open and they stumbled in, slamming the door shut. Their father and mother ran down the stairs, saw their children sweaty and panting and quivering, and asked in panicky, perfect unison:
“Where’s your sister?”
The truth is, I can’t believe it took our stepmother this long to throw us out.
She’s never liked us, after all, especially me—she didn’t like the way my father loved me, didn’t like the fact that I perfectly matched the daughter she’d never met but my father ached for, the way I looked like his dead wife when she’d been a teenager. She said she just couldn’t afford to keep us on anymore and, with me having just turned eighteen and Ansel nineteen, was no longer obligated to.
Obligated. We were obligations left behind by a father eaten alive by mourning, remnants of a shattered family.
“Are we in South Carolina yet? I zoned out,” Ansel says, his voice a forced calm as he peers over the steering wheel. Ansel likes to have a plan of attack, like he did back on the football field in high school, but right now, we’ve got nothing more than the clothes in the car and the gasoline in the tank. He doesn’t want me to see him worrying, but the truth is, I’m happy to be gone. I feel freer without a plan in the middle of nowhere than I did back in Washington.
“Yeah, we crossed the border a few hours ago,” I answer, kicking my feet up onto the dash. The backs of my knees are sticky and sweat trickles down my chest—it uses too much gas to run the AC and the heat here is heavy. It’s a little easier to bear if I imagine we’re on an epic road trip, the kind that’s a fun adventure, like you see in movies. “We should be there in another three or four hours, I think,” I add.
“There” is the direct result of the folded and refolded pastel brochure in my hands: Folly Beach, South Carolina: The Edge of America. I picked up the brochure at a Tennessee rest stop, and ever since, we’ve been moving toward it, at my behest and Ansel’s ever-accommodating apathy.
The photo on the front is of a peaceful, quiet beach with a red and white lighthouse by the water’s edge. The sand goes on for miles, golden and flat, while the water peaks into elegant waves. It’s the place of my dreams—western Washington State, with its dense forests, was full of places for girls to disappear, to vanish into the trees at the hands of a witch.
A witch. The only term I have for whatever it was that took my sister. I visualize the witch as a twisted villain, an evil woman, a monster, a demon, a near-invisible force, every man in our neighborhood, a trick of the light—something with horribly golden eyes that only I saw and Ansel has long insisted never existed in the first place. Whatever the witch is, she lives among dark trees, deep valleys, craggy ocean cliffs. I’ve spent my whole life longing for soft, endless sand and crashing waves that blur the sounds of the world so I no longer stare at the trees and wonder where the other half of me is among them. I’ve spent my whole life wanting to escape the memory of my sister, wanting to start over, and hating myself for wanting that. How could I want to run away from a lost little girl?
But still. I open the brochure again and read.
A picturesque town of painted sunsets, elegant dining, and endless beaches, Folly Beach is truly the Edge of America—where the everyday ends and serenity begins.
Each second we drive, we get closer to the water, the sand, the flat shore where it’s impossible to vanish, where I have plans: Plans to start over. Plans to be someone new, someone who isn’t haunted by a dead sister. We fly past exits that have nothing at them and finally see hints of the beach only a few hours ahead. Signs advertising resorts and speedboat rentals and little shops boasting floats and giant-size beach towels—it’s early June, prime beach season, and most of the other cars on the road seem packed to the brim with vacationing families. I inhale the hot scent of cut hay and try to imagine that it’s the ocean’s salt.
The Jeep kicks. There’s a loud crack, a boom, and the smell of smoke suddenly overpowers the air.
Ansel veers off the nearly empty road just as gray smoke billows from the front of the car. He jumps out, slamming the door as he runs around and opens the hood. I can’t see him anymore, but his coughs and curses make their way to my ears. I lean out my window, trying to see what’s going on, just as Ansel makes his way back around the car.
“The whole damn thing is burned up,” Ansel snaps, throwing himself back into the driver’s seat. He shakes his head and punches at the steering wheel. “We only have fifty-seven dollars left and the car burns to pieces.”
Ansel mutters another string of curse words, flipping through his wallet as if he may find an extra twenty-dollar bill hidden between old receipts. When he doesn’t, he shakes his head, grits his teeth, and breathes slowly. He has a fast temper, but he knows it and tries to keep it at bay around me. It was my mother’s suggestion, when Ansel started to heal and I still stared at the forest, waiting for my sister to stumble out.
“Make sure Gretchen knows you’re there for her. Don’t upset her—be her rock, Ansel. You have to help her move on.”
It’s a shame my mother couldn’t listen to her own advice. She couldn’t be anyone’s rock, curled up in her bedroom until the grief devoured her. We weren’t even allowed to say our sister’s name in front of her, because it would set her off, either make her sob or yell at us, scream that we had lost her. So we were supposed to act as if nothing was wrong. As if there’d always been only two Kassel children, Ansel constantly trying to find whatever it was that would make up for our sister’s absence, doing everything he could to be my rock, the person I hold on to when I feel as though I might slide off the world and vanish like she did.
Ansel leans across me and opens the glove compartment, then pulls out a crumbly map, folded in all the wrong ways. He stares at it for a moment. “We’re closer to the town we just passed than we are to the next one. We’ll have to walk.”
“What if we called a tow truck?”
“I don’t think we can afford it, but either way my phone is dead. Wait—yours hasn’t been used much. Does it have any bars out here?”
Of course it hasn’t been used—no one would think to call me. I wanted friends, really, but at the same time, how could I go to the mall and laugh at movies when my sister was out there in the darkness? Ansel, somehow, forced himself over that hurdle—every time he hangs up the phone, he touches the thick class ring on his finger, as if it’s his last connection to normal, to his friends, to their world. I feel bad that he’s back in mine, despite how much I need him.
I shake my head at Ansel. “My phone died this morning. I forgot to bring a car charger.”
“Then we walk,” Ansel says with a sigh. I grab my purse and climb out of the car.
And we start to walk.
Everything seemed hot before, when we were sitting in the car. But now things are truly hot, stifling in a way I’ve never known. The air doesn’t move—it sits on us like a weight, crushing us into the long grasses we trudge through. The sky is cloudless, imposing, and for what feels like a million years the scenery doesn’t change. The pine-saturated forest feels as though it’s growing oppressively closer, and I can sense the familiar fear bubbling up in my chest. There could be something in the leaves; there could be something that makes me disappear. Ansel sees it and quietly moves so that he’s in between me and the tree line. He thinks that makes it better, but really, who would I rather the witch take this time around—Ansel or me?
Finally, the exit ramp appears ahead, just as the feeling of insects nipping at my ankles is becoming too much to handle. Rivers of sweat carve down my back and Ansel’s shirt is drenched, but we huff and jog up the ramp to a crossroad. There are two signs at the top of the ramp surrounded by black-eyed Susans. One is hand-painted with red and blue lettering and reads SEE ROBERT E. LEE’S RIDING BOOTS. The other is wooden with a white background and red lettering that isn’t entirely even, as if it was hand-carved. LIVE OAK, SOUTH CAROLINA. HOME OF THE ACORNS— 1969 COUNTY CHAMPIONS.
“1969?” Ansel says, surprised. “And they still have the sign up?”
“Maybe it’s the only time they’ve won,” I suggest. Ansel frowns—in Washington, his school’s football team won the state championship so regularly that they had to shift the oldest “state champs” plaque off the sign every year to make way for the newest one. Ansel was a defensive lineman—I think I see him smirk a little at the sign as we pass it. He loved all sports, but football was his obsession—he memorized plays, other players’ stats, training regimens. He told me once that it was because he liked getting hit. That being knocked to the ground reminded him he was here.
“It looks like our options are limited,” he says. There’s nothing but farmland to our right. To our left is a large store—floats in the shapes of orcas and alligators rest in bins outside, and beach towels are hanging in the window. Beside that is a gas station attached to a long diner with giant glass windows. Even from here, I can see people watching us as they eat lunch. They look as if they’re glaring at us, but I can’t really tell for sure.
Ansel walks quickly to get in front of me, and within a few moments we’re close enough that people have stopped staring for fear of being caught. There’s a faded red cursive sign over the diner: JUDY’S. Painted letters on the windows advertise famous blackberry pie and muscadine grape preserves. All the people inside are hunched over whatever they’re eating, as though they worry someone might snatch it away from them.
When Ansel pushes the door open, a wind chime hung on the interior knocks against it. The diner is mostly occupied by sun-spotted old men wearing baseball caps and jeans, though there are a few soft-looking women as well, all completely silent, eyes on us. I was right—they are glaring, but I’m not sure why.
“All right, all right, give them some space,” a weary-looking waitress calls from the other end of the diner, waving a rag at the patrons. They give her dark looks but abandon the suspicious glares at Ansel and me. The waitress drops off a stack of napkins by an old man, then walks our way. Her yellow dress stands out against the faded aquamarine and black that decks out the diner. “Forgive them. They don’t like outsiders. I see enough that I’m over it, I guess. What’ll you have? Coca-Cola? Sweet tea? You look roasted.”
“Uh, neither, actually. We broke down about a mile ahead on the road. I wanted to see if we can get a tow truck,” Ansel says.
“Closest tow company is over in Lake City, ever since the Bakers left town. They can be out here in about an hour, though, if you want their number,” the waitress tells us with a pitying frown.
“Can I use your phone to call?” Ansel asks. The waitress reaches down below the register and pulls up an ancient-looking phone, and she and Ansel begin flipping through a series of tattered business cards, looking for the tow company’s number. I ease myself onto one of the bar stools and look around the diner.
Along with a few older blue-collar men sitting at the bar is a man—boy?—about Ansel’s age, though something about him feels old. It’s not his skin, not his hands, but something in the way he holds his shoulders, in the way his head droops down, something that makes me think he’s handsome and dangerous at once. Our eyes lock for a small moment through his layer of shaggy, almost-black hair. Bright eyes as green as mine are blue, eyes that don’t match the tired look of the rest of his body—the gaze shoots through the air and startles me. I glance down, and when I look back up, the boy is hunched over his coffee again.
I’m jarred away from him by the sound of Ansel hanging up the phone harder than necessary.
“Interested in that sweet tea now? How about a Cheerwine?” the waitress asks Ansel.
“Why not? Two teas, I guess,” Ansel mutters in response. The waitress nods and jogs toward a silver urn of tea labeled SWEET with a permanent marker. I don’t totally get the need for the marker, because the identical one beside it is also labeled SWEET.
Ansel slides onto the stool next to me. “The guy says it’ll cost a hundred and fifty dollars. Might as well be a hundred and fifty thousand. I told him never mind. I didn’t even ask how much it would be to fix the car.” Ansel sighs and rubs his forehead. “I could do it if I had the tools, but I didn’t have room to pack them.”
The waitress slides two glasses of amber tea packed with ice onto the counter; I sip on mine tentatively. It’s tremendously sweet, so much so that I feel the sugar coating the inside of my mouth. Ansel and I sit in silence for a moment, until an old man a few seats down coughs loudly and wipes his mouth with a handkerchief.
“Okay, okay, you got my pity. You good with your hands, by chance?” the old man asks.
“Good enough,” Ansel answers carefully, rising. He walks over and shakes the man’s hand.
“Ansel Kassel”—Ansel nods toward me—“and my sister, Gretchen.”
“Jed Wilkes,” the man replies.
Other people stare at Jed, as though he’s broken some sort of oath about talking to strangers. He doesn’t notice, though—he takes off his NRA ball cap and runs a hand over his mostly bald head. “Well, if you can do some basic repair sort of stuff, I might be able to point you in the right direction to make a little cash.”
“I can do basic repairs—more than basic repairs. What do you need done?” Ansel says eagerly.
“Not me—Sophia Kelly. She runs a candy shop way out in the near middle of nowhere. Had some stuff she needed fixed up, last I talked to her.”
There’s a sharp movement next to me; I turn to see that the green-eyed boy has lifted his head. “Yeah, she needs help,” he mutters, slamming his coffee mug down so hard that liquid sloshes out the sides. The waitress cusses at him under her breath, lifts the mug, and runs a wet rag over the spill. Everyone else in the diner seems to share the waitress’s sentiment—annoyed eye rolls and irritated glances fly his way. No one offers any sort of explanation before Jed continues.
“Yes,” Ansel answers immediately. “Absolutely. If I buy your meal for you, would you give us a ride back to my car first? I don’t want to leave our suitcases out there all day.”
“Hell, don’t worry about it, kid. I feel bad for you—you remind me of my grandson, before my daughter up and moved to the city with him. I’ll give you a ride to your car. Just remember to tell Miss Kelly how gentlemanly I was,” Jed says with a loud chuckle. The green-eyed boy responds by dropping a ten-dollar bill onto the counter and jumping from his seat. He moves to leave the diner but suddenly stops in front of me, eyes piercing my own.
“Stay away from her,” he tells me, loud enough that the rest of the diner can hear but so seriously, so desperately, that I feel as though he and I are the only ones in the room. “Stay as far away from her as you can.”
Ansel makes it from Jed back to me in record time, but the boy is already gone—he storms out of the diner and slides onto an ancient-looking motorcycle, then squeals out of the parking lot. I’m left shaken, not by what he said, but by the way he looked at me, the way he spoke to me, the way he… everything. I try to swallow my reaction. Being afraid of a crazy kid in a diner is no way to start a new life, Gretchen.
“I’m fine. Seriously,” I tell Ansel. I hate him and love him for being this way, ready to run to my side. It makes me feel safe, but I wish so badly that I didn’t need a rock to cling to.
“Ah, so you do speak, Skittles!” Jed says. Ansel takes the green-eyed boy’s vacant seat, still warily watching the cloud of exhaust he left.
“Skittles?” I ask.
“Never seen so many colors since lookin’ in a bag of Skittles,” Jed says, nodding toward the tips of my hair. Pink, blue, purple, faded strands of orange. I thought that maybe if I made myself stand out, I wouldn’t feel so scared of slipping off the world and vanishing like my sister—if people noticed me, they could hold me here. Ansel didn’t understand, but I still think it makes sense—you forget the number of wrens and sparrows you see every day, but if a macaw flies by, you notice her. You wouldn’t stop using her name and try to forget she ever existed.
It didn’t work, though, so I’m left with almost-healed piercings and a rainbow of faded dyes in the lower half of my hair.
Jed continues through my silence. “He’s got a thing against Miss Kelly. Don’t you mind him, don’t you mind any of ’em. People think she’s either the patron saint of candy or the first sign of Live Oak’s end days. She’s the saint, I promise you that.”
“Right,” my brother says, as if that makes complete sense. If he’s as taken aback by Jed’s description of Sophia Kelly as I am, he’s not letting it show.
“Any reason I should bother trying to find out what you two kids are doing out here all alone?” Jed asks.
“Our stepmother asked us to leave,” Ansel says shortly. “So we did.”
“Right.” Jed shoves a forkful of scrambled eggs into his mouth. “We don’t get runaways too often,” he says with a laugh. “But then, we don’t get too many young people, period.”
“We’re not runaways,” I correct Jed quietly. “We were thrown out.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jed says. His eyes sparkle. “But if your stepmother is the type to throw you out, you probably woulda run away sooner or later.”
Without doubt, I think. I know I couldn’t have lived with her in the shell of our childhood home for too much longer. Ansel shakes his head and takes a drink of his yet-untouched tea; his eyes widen in surprise at how sweet it is.
“Well, let’s head out, then,” Jed finally says, nodding at the waitress. She takes a ten-dollar bill from his hand. Ansel fumbles with his wallet to pay for our drinks.
“Don’t worry about it, hon. On the house,” she says with a kind smile. Usually Ansel would be too proud to walk away without paying, but I suppose being this broke has challenged his pride. He gives her an appreciative look as I follow Jed outside; the diner begins buzzing again behind us, as if they’d been holding in their conversations while strangers were around. There’s a faded red truck that I already can tell belongs to Jed—it doesn’t surprise me at all when he opens the door and waves us over. I let Ansel have the front, since he’s huge and the back is crammed with tools and cigarette packages.
With the windows open, hot wind whipping through the air, we cut down the interstate to Ansel’s Jeep. He grabs most of our things, tosses them into the back of Jed’s truck beside some rusty animal traps, and we’re on our way again.
The first stoplight we see is simply flashing yellow, and Jed coasts through it. The town appears ahead—strings of brick buildings connected to one another, though each with a slightly different storefront. On the sides of the buildings are old signs from businesses long closed, painted on the brick in faded colors. It’d be idyllic, if it didn’t have a feel of abandonment about it—as though the buildings are stores merely because that’s what they’ve always been. I feel as if the empty windows are watching me.
Finally, there’s a break in the buildings: a town square, with a traffic circle around its border. In the center is a statue of a Confederate soldier on a rearing horse. On the far side of the square, set just off the road, is a wooden building with an American flag out front and a bright red acorn logo above it. The windows are boarded up.
“Is that a school?” Ansel asks over the clattering of the truck’s engine struggling down the road.
“Was. Ten or so years ago we stopped havin’ enough students to fill it. All the kids are bused down to Lake City now—hour ride, but the government paid for a bus to come and get ’em. Though rumor has it that might stop, what with there not bein’ too many kids left in Live Oak.”
“You won the county championship in sixty-nine, I saw,” Ansel adds with a hint of amusement in his voice.
“Bet your sweet ass our boys did—against Lake City High, biggest showdown in the county. I was second-string, didn’t get to play in the game, but Sophia’s daddy was the big star of it. Touchdown, seventy-three yards. Proudest moment Live Oak’s ever had!” Jed exclaims. If that was their proudest moment, I can’t help but wonder what’s been going on in the decades since, but I keep my mouth shut.
We emerge on the other side of town and delve back onto roads lined with pastures or trees. Jed begins taking strange turns onto roads that I’m certain can’t lead anywhere, since they’re all overgrown with branches and the paving is barely there at all, but no, eventually we come out on a decently paved street with forests looming on either side. They’re just starting to bear down on me when I spot a break in the trees, and when Jed slows down, I realize what it is—a front yard. We’re here.
Excerpted from Sweetly by Pearce, Jackson Copyright © 2011 by Pearce, Jackson. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reviewed by Rita G. for Readers Favorite "Sweetly" by Jackson Pearce offers readers a new twist on an old fairy tale. Things are not always what they seem. The woman living in the sweet house turns out to be a dangerous character. Ansel and Gretchen's home life was filled with a lot of unhappiness. They both wanted to start a new life and left home. Unfortunately, you cannot run away from all of your problems. When they were young they walked in the woods and something very bad got their sister. She was never found. They believe it was the witch. As they grew up they avoided her name, never to mention it again. When Gretchen turned eighteen their wicked step mother threw them out of the house. That was the start of their adventure. They arrived in the small town of Live Oak, South Carolina, with their car trouble and out of money. Sophia, the candy maker takes them in and the pain of their past begins to fade. Ansel finds himself falling in love with the beautiful candy maker and Gretchen meets Samuel who wins her heart. Secrets surround Sophia, the forest and the missing girls. Will Gretchen be the next? The cover of this book fits it perfectly. It made me want to pick up this book and open the cover. From the moment I picked up this book I was mesmerized. I could not lay it down and read through the night. I was so wrapped up in the story I felt as if I knew Gretchen and really cared about what would happen to her. This is truly a new twist to a fairy tale. I would love to read the whole series.
i loved, loved LOVED Sweetly so much!! like Sisters Red, I was sad finishing it because i didn't want it to end. Jackson Pearce is a phenomenal writer and i cannot wait until Fathomless, the next companion book of Sisters Red to come out next August! (2012) this book was creepy, adventurous and romantic at the same time!! the reader could really feel how Gretchen was feeling. you could even feel how the other characters were feeling even though Gretchen was telling the story- that's how amazing Pearce's writing is! i am counting down the days until Fathomless... i'll be driving my family nuts!
A really good book! i really enjoyed the modern version of Hansel and Gretel.
In SISTERS RED, Jackson Pearce put a new twist on the story of Little Red Riding Hood. This time, she is taking on Hansel and Gretel. I was extremely excited when I saw this ARC at a booth at the NCTE Conference and quickly grabbed it up when I got the chance. Now, I will start out by saying that SISTERS RED was my favorite book from 2010, so SWEETLY had a lot to live up to. Gretchen and Ansel are on their own. Being kicked out of their house by their stepmother after the death of their father has left them homeless, alone, and penniless. They travel as far as they can until their car breaks down in a small town called Live Oak in South Carolina. With no way to pay for the repairs to their car, they are left with little choice but to take what work they can find. Ansel finds work as a handyman for the local chocolatier, a girl named Sophia. They soon find out that people don't like Sophia and consider her to be a danger to the community. Every year, Sophia has a Chocolate Festival. Young girls in the community hope for an invitation, but only the "right" girls get one. The community suspects Sophia of evil doings, because every year after the festival a couple of girls disappear - never to be heard from again. As Gretchen gets to know Sophia while she helps her make candy, she learns some things that make her wonder what is really going on in Sophia's life and with the missing girls. When Gretchen meets Samuel, things start to fall into place. She begins to take action and gain control of her life. Will she be able to save herself and the girls of Live Oak from the monsters in the woods? Unfortunately, SWEETLY didn't grab me like SISTERS RED did. While set in the same world as the first book, this one didn't feel as intense. I didn't fall in love with any of the characters like I did with Scarlet, Rosie, and Silas. However, I'll still eagerly read the next one Pearce writes.
Love this book! Very clever, romantic and fun! Jackson Pearce is a great writter!!!! Cant wait for more
I was so lucky to get an ARC of "Sweetly" by Jackson Pearce. I have always loved Jackson Pearce, even before her first book, "As You Wish", was released. I read AYW in one day and read "Sisters Red" rather quickly, so I had high expectations for this book. I was not disappointed. "Sweetly" was one of the best books I have read. I like that there are similarities between SR and S, beyond the fact that they are fairy-tale spin offs. There is one sibling that is able to move on from tradgedy and live their own life, the other sibling is unable to do so and has to continue to do something. Personally, I would pick "Sweetly" over SR. It may just be because "Sweetly" had more romance in it, but I loved this story. I couldn't put it down. I found myself saying "I'll just read this next chapter, it's only x many pages, then I'll go do whatever" - and the next thing I knew, I had read four or more chapters. What I liked most about this book, I think, was that Gretchen, while dedicated to fighting the "witch" and protecting the people she loves, she was also still able to have a life of her own. In SR, Scarlet was completely focused on fighting the Fenris, so much so that she never allowed herself to fall in love or have a hobby. But Gretchen still lets herself do that stuff. Throughout this novel we see Gretchen go from being a scared little girl to a strong woman that can defend herself and do what needs to be done. However, I think this novel also illustrates another type of growth - a growth in the author. This novel really showed me a growth in Jackson Pearce's voice as an author. I think that Pearce has improved her writing skills since her first novel was released, and I wasn't sure if she could get any better because I already loved her work SO much. I'm not just saying this because she's one of my favorite authors or because I've met her. This novel made me so proud of her because of the sheer beauty of this novel. If this novel doesn't go to the New York Time's Best Seller List, I don't know what is wrong with America. Job well done, Jackson Pearce. I am eager to see you go even farther in your career. "Sweetly" is definitely one of my favorite books and I am pretty sure I will be re-reading it sooner or later (and I NEVER re-read books)!
Siblings Ansel and Gretchen are driving cross-country after being kicked out of their home by their stepmother. When their car breaks down in a tiny South Carolina town, the only local citizen who welcomes them is Sophia, the beautiful young proprietor of a confectionery shop. As Ansel and Gretchen make themselves useful around the shop, they learn some of the town's darkest secrets. Young women have been steadily disappearing . . . and some locals blame Sophia. Through a friendship with a somewhat reclusive young man, Gretchen learns the truth behind the girls' disappearances -- and solves a mystery from her own past, as well. Can she stop more young women from disappearing, or will her efforts be too little, too late?Of the two companion novels, I have to say that Sisters Red was a stronger work than Sweetly. My problem with this book is that I didn't find a single character likable. Ansel was a flat nonentity, Sophia a bit too much of a stereotypical femme fatale. Gretchen struck me as both whiny and clueless, and her romantic counterpart, who was probably supposed to seem mysterious and brooding, instead came across as sullen and uncooperative. The plot dragged a bit in the middle as Ansel and Gretchen cooled their heels at the chocolate shop, waiting for something to happen. Also -- minor spoiler -- equating the "witch" from the original story with the werewolves from Sisters Red didn't work for me, and having Gretchen constantly refer to the werewolves as witches reinforced my opinion of her as a clueless airhead. I also feel that it weakened the bond between this retelling and the original Hansel and Gretel story.I'm sure many readers, particularly fans of this author, will love this story. It just wasn't the best book for me.
Sweetly really captured me from the beginning. Even after finishing that book, I kept thinking about what happened and even missed the characters. I really enjoyed reading what Gretchen was doing in order to protect herself from the witch and to not end up like her twin sister. Her and Samuel's relationship was such a breath of fresh air. I just love the two together. I loved Samuel. He was stubborn and strong headed and even when people were calling him crazy, he still remained strong and did what he knew was right. Sophia was a very interesting character. I couldn't figure her out at all, was she evil or kind and sweet like she appears? And the ending totally blew my mind, definitely didn't expect that.I really liked how Pearce connected Sisters Red to this story and I can already see the connection with the next book, Fathomless, which excites me even more for its release.
Twelve years ago, Gretchen, Ansel, and their sister were playing in the woods when their sister went missing. She was right next to them and then she was gone. Now, Gretchen and Ansel are on the road, kicked out by their stepmother. They randomly find themselves in Live Oak, South Carolina with a broken down car and practically no money. After being shunned by quite a few of the townspeople, they are directed to someone who is equally shunned, Sophia Kelly. She runs a candy shop and it's rumored that girls disappear after her festivals every year, never to be seen again. Gretchen and Ansel don't believe the rumors and are shocked by how welcoming and nice Sophia is. They settle into a routine and revel in having a home and a family. Gretchen is convinced that whatever is taking the girls at the festival is the same witch that took her sister. She's ready to stand and fight to avenge her sister and save any more girls from being victimized. Is Sophia somehow involved in the disappearances? Will Gretchen ever find out what happened to her sister?Sweetly is a companion novel to Sisters Red, one of my favorite fairy tale retellings ever. They have none of the same characters, but as the book goes on, it becomes clear that there are definitely common elements. This is a modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel. Each character (except for the parents) are present, but fleshed out and modernized so they seem more like real people than flat fairy tale characters. Gretchen is much like Gretel because she always feels like that little girl that was left without a sister. The passage of time didn't do much to alleviate her pain or helplessness. This story is really one of her coming of age and growing from that helpless little girl into a strong woman willing to face her fears. This also parallels the original fairy tale as Hansel and Gretel leave their home as children, overcome a trial guided by nature, and return successful and rich to their family. I loved reading about Gretchen's journey. Sophia isn't what one would expect as the child eating witch from Hansel and Gretel. She's super sweet and welcoming, plus she makes the most delicious chocolates. I seriously had huge cravings for chocolate when reading Sweetly. But, underneath that sweetness, there is a bitter center that is stays hidden through most of the novel. These updated characters kept my interest and drew parallels to the original Grimm tale.While I loved the characters and the writing, the plot dragged a little for me. Between the revelation about what happened to Gretchen's sister and the big finale, there was definitely a drag in the plot. It left me wondering when something big would happen without building any suspense. I also felt that the elements common with Sisters Red took away from the Hansel and Gretel story a little bit. In Sisters Red, I never forgot it was a Red Riding Hood story and the characters and plot played with the ideas and concepts throughout. Near the middle of Sweetly, I forgot it was even about Hansel and Gretel. It didn't have that strong bond with the original tale that I expected.Despite some issues, I really enjoyed Sweetly. This retelling tapped into deep emotions of loss and sadness and brought the frightening and violent aspects that worked so well in Sisters Red. I am definitely going to read Fathomless, the next companion novel about The Little Mermaid. Jackson Pearce is a wonderful author and think she can reveal how dark the story really is.
Fairytale retellings must have become a thing for me. Ever since Sisters Red also by Jackson Pearce, and Entwined by Heather Dixon, I've fallen hopelessly in love and obsessed with fairytale retellings. Almost effortlessly, Sweetly managed to shoot up to my favorites ever since I opened the book and entered the mysterious and creepy world of Ansel and Gretchen, were there is a unknown danger lurking the forest.There was something that drew me to Sweetly, the moment I saw it. I knew that I had to get this book and read it, because if not I'll be missing something in my life. This all happened before I read, Sisters Red. I was excited to see what Jackson Pearce did with the story of Hansel and Gretel, and honestly, I did not expect her twist her on the old tale. The twist made Sweetly so unique, that I don't think it was much of retelling, it was something that could have been an original story (which it pretty much is). I've got a feeling Jackson Pearce has a lot going on for the Fenris *hint hint*.The characters have to be my favorite part of the story--especially Gretchen. To me, her motives were so clear and she knew what her motives were. She constantly mentioned it throughout the book. I definitely look up to her. I admire Jackson Pearce and her characters because they make their purpose so clear and they're so driven by them. In their own way, they are heroes. And then there's Sophia Kelley, who was driven by her own purpose. I really didn't want to hate her, she was so gentle and hurt, but there's more to a someone under that thick coat of sweetness. Oh and I have to mention Samuel Reynolds (I see what you did there Jackson Pearce) somewhere here! I love him. His green eyes, his sarcastic remarks, and how a pro he is at using a gun.Sweetly was perfection--a mix of a dark mystery, a sprinkle of great romances, and coated with a nice touch of passionate characters. Jackson Pearce cooked up a clever recipe for the ultimate fairytale retelling. I absolutely can't wait for Fathomless (a Little Mermaid retelling!). Now don't go to the forest alone, or else you might run into a witch. I suggest bringing some sweets to mark your trail...or just read Sweetly and you'll be kicking the witch's butt in no time.
Svelte Sweet*Read this ARC via Around The World ARC ToursThis sweet book gets a 3 gnomes and a gnome hat out of 5 gnomes. This is a great re-imagining of the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel. All the basic parts of the story are there and enhanced well to cover a longer story.There is a fantastic beginning to this story with the prologue that shows what happens in the woods to Ansel and Gretchen when they are chased by something and end up losing their sister. Their lives aren¿t the same after that day because no one believes them and rumors abound that it was their fault. The grief of losing their sister, Gretchen¿s twin, really tears the family apart. These two only have each other to rely on. The first chapter starts years later after they are in their late teens and on the road.They get stuck in a small town but run into some magical and paranormal obstacles. The automatic hatred of any outsiders in the town seems kind of cliché at first. All the small towns I¿ve been to seemed overly friendly and not hostile at all. Then they're introduced to the chocolatier Sophia who is also seen as an outsider by many in the town. She has troubles of her own and seems to, as Gretchen notices, have two very different sides to herself. One side of Sophia is always happy but the other when she drops the whole happy mask is horribly sad. Sophia is one of those characters that you're just not sure about, she seems nice but well I know I would never trust anyone who smelled like candy all the time. There is some romance in the book but nothing over the top or anything. One couple in this book works a whole lot better than the other because you can tell that there is no chance that one of the pairings will work. This has to do with the characters and their parts in the story because there are strong hints that things aren¿t going to end well pretty early in the book for one character. The other relationship in the book is more surprising, also it just feels more sincere than the other relationship. I was pleasantly surprised to see that some elements from Pearce¿s Sisters Red book were important in this book too. This was a surprise because I wasn't expecting anything of the previous book to be part of this one.The villains in this book kind of work on one level but I wish it was harder to figure out who one of the bad guys is. There was no question in my mind while reading that one of the characters had to be a bad guy, I usually like to not have guessed that/know that right away. The mystery of figuring out what the witch that Gretchen is so scared of is and whether or not the witch existed to begin with is a great guessing game.There is some sweetness along with some cool paranormal elements in this book. Gretchen is a great character who slowly grows over the book and by the end you'll really want to know what happens to her next. Overall this is quite the retelling of Hansel and Gretel that has some good points but could also use some more mystery.
Years ago, Gretchen¿s twin sister was stolen by a witch with yellow eyes. Gretchen and her brother Ansel have always been blamed for their sister¿s disappearance. Many years alter, the two siblings are kicked out of their house, and they find themselves at Sophia Kelly¿s chocolatier, a place where the candy seems to have a calming effect on people. Everything seems wonderful, but there¿s something about Sophia¿the townspeople seem to have made her a social pariah. And there just might be another yellow-eyed witch lurking in the forest nearby¿Deliciously creepy, Sweetly delivers a twisted retelling of Hansel & Gretel. The story doesn¿t go quite as far as putting children in an oven, but it gets close. Sweetly¿s murder mystery is chilling and gripping, and its solution is ultimately a huge surprise. Jackson Pearce does a fantastic job of building up suspense and suspicion, but the reader only solves the mystery at the same time as the characters¿nothing is easily guessable.Gretchen is a fabulous protagonist, and she brings quite a bit of heart to the story. Her loyalty and determination make her admirable, but it¿s her thoughtfulness that really makes her stand out as a character. Gretchen carries a heavy load of guilt, but slowly sheds it, layer by layer. Sweetly¿s heroine is driven, too, and she¿s not afraid to learn how to shoot a gun.Another character of note is Sophia, a young woman who offers Gretchen and her brother a place to stay at her chocolatier when their car breaks down near town. Sophia is probably the most complex character in Sweetly. She has many secrets, and as they are slowly revealed, readers will find themselves going back and forth, trying to figure the Patron Saint of Candy out. Sophia seems kind and perky on the surface, but she has moments of tremendous grief. It¿s these moments where we see the true Sophia, and wonder whether she¿s really as bad as the townspeople think she is.Sweetly is a mystery, but it¿s also a tale of grief and blame, of love and loyalty. Fans of fairytale retellings will love this new spin on Hansel & Gretel, and all readers will enjoy untangling the complex web of a mystery Jackson Pearce weaves.
There is a witch but the witch is not like the one in Monty Python. She will not turn you into a newt and you will not get better. It is much more horrible than that. The witch took one of the siblings 12 years ago, Gretchen's identical twin. Since then, Gretchen and Ansel have watched the woods and not spoken of the incident. Both of their parents have since died and the evil stepmother tired of the stepchildren and told them to move along. That's when they break down in a very small and secluded town where the only place for them to earn their keep is a candy maker's cottage. By the way, the candy maker is an enchantingly beautiful young woman with eyes for Ansel and suddenly Gretchen's BFF.That's pretty much the end of the similarities between the retelling of Hansel and Gretel except for an occasional reference. It is best to read this book as an original story so as not to be disappointed when the witch is revealed. Although Ansel does fatten up a bit and the enchantress, well, I can't tell you any more about her.Be forewarned that this book is pretty gory at some points. The fight scenes are well choreographed and the death scenes are much like the Brothers Grimm might have written them way back in the Days of Yore (real time period, people). Do not read this book to your wee ones as a bedtime story. Bad dreams will abound.Still. I liked it a lot.
Sweetly is a companion novel to Sisters Red and a retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story. In this version, Gretchen has a twin sister. As children, Hansel, Gretchen, and the sister go exploring and "witch hunting" in the woods. The game ends when they find the yellow-eyed witch. They flee for their lives, but when they reach home, the twin is gone. No one believes it was the witch. In order to escape the continued guilt and blame of that event they travel east. Their car breaks down in Live Oak, South Carolina, a small town that seems to be withering away. The siblings agree to work for Sophia Kelly at her candy store in the woods in order to raise the funds to get their car towed and repaired. However, Sophia has secrets and the something in the woods is hunting the girls of Live Oak. More than anything else, this book is about finding forgiveness and making peace with being the survivor of a horrible event. Especially as loosing her twin, loosing her other half, Gretchen has had a hard time to come to terms with her loss. She's an interesting character that manages to not be whiny. In fact, she's rather matter of fact about her realities and accepting of her sorrow. She learns to trust in her own strength and that's really powerful. I wasn't as interested in Hansel. He didn't seem to have as much dimension as Gretchen did, but then, he had come to terms with the loss of his sister long before she did. Sophia, however, was definitely fascinating. You can tell immediately that she's keeping secrets, but it's hard to tell why that is until the pieces little by little begin to unfold. She's a complicated character, one you both love and fear all at once. The emotional experience envelopes the adventure and suspense of the story, giving it meaning and depth.
I love Ms. Pearce great re-taling of classic tales. She takes them and molds them into something new, fresh and absolutely amazing to read. As the reader, I am engrossed by the re-taling of Hansel and Gretel. It is one fairy tale that I loved to read when I was little. And still today, I find that authors adding a new spin to the classic, they are even better.First off, the characters were great! I loved how Ms. Pearce wrote such amazing characters so similar to the classic tale. I am amazed of how well Ms. Pearce captured the essence of the main characters and bringing more life to them. I adored the brother-sister duo. The way that they worked together and have held on to each other through all the hard times is great. Ms. Pearce captured such amazing teen voice in a whole new way.The plot line of this book is awesome! I loved the spin Ms. Pearce put on the tale. Every turn of the page, gave you a whole new aspect to the classic tale. The reader sees things in a whole new light bringing forth a new story to read. It is easy to fall into the story with the great writing style. I found myself sucked in quickly in the world of Sweetly and could not get out.I found the love interest in this story very bittersweet. I adored how Ms. Pearce weaved such a love so strong in an already strong story. I didn't think that a love interest would be possible. Ms. Pearce made it so easy to fall into.Sweetly is a a great and amazing book. Written beautifully and told stunningly, Sweetly is a book you want to read. The modernization of Hansel and Gretal is simply fantastic. Plus, just reading this book alone makes you mouth water for chocolate!
I love Jackson Pearce's retelling of old fairy tales. Sweetly is a retell of Hansel and Gretel with a paranormal twist. It isn't your children's story anymore. I really enjoyed this book it has action, paranormal things, a little romance, heartbreak and a few surprises. I read this in basically one sitting. There is a few tie in characters from Sisters Red but you don't need to read one before the other. I can't wait to see what fairy tale gets twisted next.
More fairytale retellings, more fenris! I loved it! Pearce had me captivated from the Prologue (deliciously spooky!) and I didn't put the book down until the end!Ansel, Gretchen and Abigail go into the woods to find the witch they have heard about growing up. Unfortunately, they find the "witch" and Abigail disappears. Now, twelve years later, Ansel and Gretchen are heading to South Carolina to escape their past (well, and the fact that they were kicked out of their home by their stepmother). Of course, their car breaks down in a small town and they end up in a cottage in the woods. Hmmm....However, the small town of Live Oak has had girls disappearing very much like Gretchen's sister disappeared. Gretchen decides to investigate while Ansel works for Sophia (the town's candy shop owner) and of course, maybe starts to fall in love with her (yeah, you'll have to read it to find out what goes on there).I loved that I never knew what Sophia was about. She kept me guessing the entire time! I also loved Gretchen and her rainbow colored hair! I enjoyed watching her grow into a strong young woman. All the characters were well developed though and I honestly enjoyed them all, Gretchen, Sophia, Samuel, Ansel...yeah, they rocked!I think I liked this book more that Sisters Red! Maybe because I've always liked the Hansel and Gretel story more than Little Red Riding Hood but I think it was just more fast-paced and I connected more with these characters than with those of Sisters Red. Both stories are great but this one takes the cake!
If you read Sisters Red, than I am going to assume I don't need to convince you to read this one. The reason being that Sisters Red introduced us to the wonderful re-telling writing of Jackson Pearce, and after the awesome that was Sisters Red, I know I was dying to read this one. If you have not read the companion, don't worry, it is a companion, not a sequel- there is no order required for understanding. Actually, I wish I had read Sweetly before Sisters Red. But either way, I enjoyed being once again immersed in the world created by Ms. Pearce.I am not going to ruin the plot, since it was different than I imagined. Like Sisters Red, Sweetly is based off a classic story, this time Hansel and Gretel, however the two stories are not even remotely the same. I would suggest trying to read the book without comparing the two, because for me, comparing the two took my attention away from the book, which wasn't fair to the author. I sort of went into this book thinking I knew what was going to happen, but Pearce deviates away enough from the original to keep the reader guessing - definitely a very good thing.I do have one piece of very crucial advice for you; when reading Sweetly, be sure to have a good sized supply of candy on hand. I had none, and therefore do to my immediate cravings, found myself spending a day making candied lemon peels, candied oranges and an assortment of truffles. They were delicious. Now, back to the book (since I seemed to be getting distracted by sugar). Read it. Do it, I dare you...
Although bad idea to read this protoluge at night its creppy protoluge is the first couple of pages u read before the first chapter but overall great book higly recommnded
The story was good at first. The mystery aspect of the story and the scary moments were well done and gave me the heebie jeebies. I was sort of hoping for a sequel to Sisters Red but knew this wasn’t the case as I read the summary before so I was mildly disappointed. Although it’s nice to see fairy tale retellings. What’s guaranteed is your sweet tooth will start to crave the various delicious sweets and desserts listed all throughout the book. You’ll want to raid a sweet shop after reading this book. They’re told in descriptive detail and it’s very well done. Although that aspect of the writing was good, I have to say I didn’t really enjoy reading the story that much. It was slow paced and I found it quite dry in some parts. Gretchen wasn’t much to be intrigued about. Also even the romance between her and Samuel just didn’t have enough to get my attention. So the ending went out with a bang but it just wasn’t enough to make up for such a dry book. Needless to say I was disappointed. This could have been better. Sure, I feel like grabbing a handful of candies and cupcakes and there were moments of scariness but there characters didn’t really engage me and I didn’t find this a page turner. Take it or leave it. Lovely cover though!
Super amazin love it always
A take of Hansel and Gretel. Well written. Easy to get to know the characters. A good book if your in the mood for some make believe.
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