[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/5839124]
South Carolina Junior Book Award Nominee (2010-2011)
The simplest way to begin is to start at the ending: The girl's name was Isabelle.When Isabelle is chased into a tree by a pack of dogs, she realizes she probably is running from something; she just has no idea what that something is. She's brought into the village and told that she's probably running from the old witch in the woods. A baby was just stolen by the witch, so maybe, just maybe, the witch released the girl she stole six years ago. Her name was Isabelle.
This is the simplest way because in the beginning she had no name -- she was a girl with no name running through a forest she didn't know, for a reason she couldn't remember. She didn't know if she was running away from something or to something or for the simple joy of running
Let me start off by saying that this book is never as spooky as the cover would suggest. There may be an old witch, and there is certainly rampant speculation about said witch and what she might do out there all alone in the forest, but this book isn't about her. It's about Isabelle. Also, there is someone a lot more scary than a witch, but that person is scary in a much different way than what the cover advertises. This person inspires a slow build of scary rather than a jump out and grab you scary. I say this because I certainly wouldn't have picked this book up when I was in late elementary/early middle school (I was kind of a wimp), but I probably would have really loved the story inside.
The girl who might be Isabelle gets thrown into a lot of drama, right from the get-go. She's bitten by a hunting dog that is looking for a witch. When she begins to recover from that, she has to tell the family that took her in that she remembers nothing about her own life. Just when she starts to come to terms with that, the folks who might be her family come to claim her. The newly stolen baby was their daughter as well. Their joy at having Isabelle back is tempered by worry about the baby. There is so much pain in this family; Isabelle wants to be their missing daughter, if only to allow them to avoid the pain of losing a daughter all over again. Then Isabelle meets Honey, possibly her older sister, and she can tell that whether Isabelle is the "real" Isabelle or not, Honey wants her family to have nothing to do with her.
Isabelle has some memory; she knows how to spin wool and she knows she was never a princess, for example. She can still navigate the world she's found herself in, even if she has no idea what her place is in it. Maybe because, at least in her head, she has no history with the people around her, she sees things about them that the rest of the village may not. She feels sorry for the mother and father (hers?) who have love two daughters to the witch, but she can see, where others do not, that this desperation to have Isabelle back isn't just the grasping hope of grieving parents. She can see that the rich aunt after whom Isabelle was named is lonely and desperate to have her namesake back. She sees that Honey isn't just suspicious of her, never believing her to be the true Isabelle, but that she doesn't believe that the "real" Isabelle is capable of coming back at all. And she sees that Avis, the woman who initially took her in, doesn't trust the lot of them. These insights don't always seem to help Isabelle figure things out as quickly as she should, but they are more interesting than simple, wide-eyed wonder at that is new around her.
There's a lot of intrigue in this little village that Isabelle must decipher if she's going to figure out who she really is. When it does finally come back to her, it all comes back in a rush (I mean for her. The writing isn't rushed). The ending is unbelievably clever. I had to rush back and reread the prologue to make sure it all fits together, because it is certainly not what I was expecting. It's awesome; I highly recommend it.
Book source: Philly Free Library