I remember the children’s books I read as a kid. Matilda. James and the Giant Peach. Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Dr. Dolittle. The Hobbit. They were all good, fun, wholesome stories. They had scary moments and scary monsters, but they were never too terrifying. They dealt with serious subjects, but never took themselves too seriously. They had laughter, but not stupid humor. They were crafted and told with an eye towards creating something pure and true, something magical. I have wondered very much if the world would ever truly produce such magic again for the next generation.
After reading The Memory Thief, I am happy to report that the answer is, “yes.”
This enchanting children’s book, written by Jodi Lynn Anderson, is the first installment in the Thirteen Witches series. To use the book’s own description off Amazon:
Twelve-year-old Rosie Oaks’s mom is missing whatever it is that makes mothers love their daughters. All her life, Rosie has known this…and turned to stories for comfort. Then, on the night Rosie decides to throw her stories away forever, an invisible ally helps her discover the Witch Hunter’s Guide to the Universe, a book that claims that all of the evil in the world stems from thirteen witches who are unseen…but also unstoppable. One of these witches—the Memory Thief—holds an insidious power to steal our most precious treasures: our memories. And it is this witch who has cursed Rosie’s mother.
In her quest to save her mom—and with her wild, loyal friend “Germ” by her side—Rosie will find the layers hidden under the reality she only thought she knew: where ghosts linger as shades of the past, where clouds witness the world, and a ladder dangles from the moon leading to something bigger and more. Here, words are weapons against the darkness, and witch hunters are those brave enough to wield their imaginations in the face of the unthinkable.
At the core of this stunning novel—the first of the Thirteen Witches trilogy from critically acclaimed author Jodi Lynn Anderson—is a passionate argument that stories have the power to create meaningful change…and a reason to hope even when the world feels crushing.
That is, all in all, a pretty fair summary of the book. It glosses over almost all of the details, but it still retains the heart of the story itself. And said story, despite being quite clearly written for a much younger audience with a noticeably lower reading level than my own, was one I could very much appreciate and love even as an adult.
Not to say it couldn’t be improved in certain aspects, of course. I personally hated the first-person point of view, for instance, and felt the narrative would have flowed better with a third-person view of Rosie and her friends. There are some questions asked that are never answered, like why certain entities who never interfere decided to interfere this time, albeit only a little bit. And the triumph at the climax is… skating around spoilers, there were elements which made little sense to me, even accounting for childlike wonder and magic, which made it feel a little deus ex machina.
However, “perfection,” especially my own, arbitrary definition of it, would be quite a lot to ask of any story. I still very much enjoyed it, even loved it.
I could feel for Rosie in the various ordeals of her life. There was how she, a kid, had to be a capable adult with a mother who wasn’t simply missing “what makes mothers love their daughters.” She was missing the very knowledge, the memory, that her daughter even existed. (one mustn’t think too hard about how she survived her infancy, let alone as a toddler) There was how Rosie turned to stories, told by others and made up by herself, to draw strength from, to still be a kid, with a child’s optimistic outlook. There was how Rosie had to deal with the truth that she was growing up, and couldn’t push the pause button to keep things the way they were long enough for them to magically get better. And there was Rosie’s friendship with Germ, how they were changing, as was the dynamic between them, though Rosie wanted fiercely to just keep that one good thing in her life from becoming something else, something that could end.
On top of all that, suddenly seeing the magical world that lies just out of sight for most people is practically nothing. Even when the eye of the witch known as the Memory Thief fell on her, with vile, murderous intent, even that was sometimes overshadowed by the simple pressures of Rosie’s everyday life.
Interesting how dealing with all of the darkness of her life, and of the world, had the same answer: create. Add something worthwhile to the world. Shine a new light into the darkness and stand against it, though high may be the cost.
Speaking of the witches, I liked the supernatural elements of the world. There’s the Moon Goddess, source of light in the dark, who shines with hope. There are the ghosts, who are the spirits of the dead, locked out of whatever comes after due to some sort of regret that needs addressing. There are the cloud shepherds, who quietly watch over the whole of the world, observing and remembering. And then there are the witches: thirteen vile spirits of darkness, not quite physical, souls of greed and spite who take and take and take all the hopes and dreams and goodness from the world, so they can have all the shiny, precious things, and no one else. These are responsible for a great amount of the world’s darkness and evil.
Oh, and there’s the witch hunters. That handful of human bloodlines who can see the world as it truly is, and fight back against the witches. Unfortunately, that seems to be a losing war – or, rather, a lost war – as Rosie is apparently the very last witch hunter of them all, and, in the entire history of the world, only one witch has ever been killed. And they don’t even know how it was done.
So the witches have lost only one and the witch hunters are down to only one, a young girl, not even a teen, who knows nothing and has no idea what to do.
I am hard-pressed to think of any other story I’ve encountered which has had the hero face odds quite that bad!
And yet, Rosie perseveres. She has a lot of help, most especially in the form of guidance, but, ultimately, she is the one who has to choose to fight. And even if she wins this time, by surviving, and striking down a witch, she will still have to choose, in due time, whether she will keep fighting against all the odds, or try to live normally, doing nothing more.
That all sounds fairly heavy for a children’s story, eh? And had this been handled just a little differently, it could be anything but. And yet, the wonder of the world, the nature of the enemy, the questions of love and life and change, the universal quest to find one’s own light and purpose, not to mention the skill with which the story is woven, it all comes out as… well, as a magical tale which can entertain and enlighten kids for quite some time to come.
That is no small thing in today’s world.
Rating: 9 stars out of 10.
Grade: solid A.