Author: Victoria Schwab
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication Date: August 2, 2011
Links: Amazon | Goodreads
The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.
If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.
And there are no strangers in the town of Near.
These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.
But when an actual stranger—a boy who seems to fade like smoke—appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.
The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him.
As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know—about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.
Lexi is a wonderful main character. She's smart and strong-willed. Even though her world is an old-fashioned one in which people use candles for light and expect girls to wear dresses and have the auspicious goal of marriage, Lexi doesn't share society's ideas of what is proper behavior for a girl. She wears her father's old boots with socks stuffed into them to make them fit. She carries his knife. She sneaks out late at night to attempt to track missing children. She's got a mind of her own and ideas of her own, and she won't be told by anyone else what those ideas should be.
The other characters are fleshed-out well also. Lexi's mother supports her. Lexi and her kid sister have a relationship that is both adoring and teasing (with maybe some slight terrorizing), as sisterly relationships should be. Her uncle is overbearing out of a desire to protect her, and thinks that Lexi should act more like a little lady. The people of Near, even the minor ones, have some pretty clear motivations and create a fleshed-out society that is believable. Cole, the outsider, is a mysterious unknown and throws a wrench into the lives of the people of Near, who have never encountered strangers. His presence, along with that of the two witch sisters who live in Near, reveal the deep-seeded prejudice and fear that the townspeople have of those who are Other.
Lexi's task is singular, but proves difficult to accomplish. It seems like everything that can go wrong for her does go wrong. Her obstacles do their job of making the reader feel Lexi's frustration and increasing urgency as the story moves forward. The pacing isn't FAST, but it does encourage the "one more chapter" mentality that makes the book a quick read. And the plot also has a definite creepiness to it that is only enhanced by the setting of this little town of Near, settled among the wildness of the moors, and complete with its own history and folklore. So the pacing, plot, and setting are fantastic.
I wholeheartedly enjoyed The Near Witch. It has just the right amounts of magic, mystery, and danger. The setting against the moors is perfect for a witch story. I recommend it to anyone who likes witches, fantasy, mystery, and moor settings.