CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 20. . . .February 3, 2017
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2017.
198 pp., hardcover, pdf & epub, $9.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-1252-9 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4598-1253-6 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-1254-3 (epub).
Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.
Review by Ellen Wu.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
My friends, he said. I never thought of Jack having friends. I thought he was alone, like me.
I don't like him having friends. They pull him away from me. "They'll be worried," he said. What would they have to be worried about? He's perfectly well here with me.
No matter. Soon I won't need to bother about his friends, because we'll be together forever.
His handkerchief has blood on it! Jack's blood. That's a powerful binder, I think. I'm sure I heard Mad Gerda say that anything from the person's body--hair or nail parings but especially blood--was the best thing to use. I'm sure it will work now.
I'll bring Jack back-- and this time he'll stay.
[beginning of chapter omitted].
"She's making, like a voodoo doll? Of me?" I was remembering the night before, the Match Girl's odd behavior, and the phrase a sinking feeling now demonstrated its meaning in my body.
"It could have just been my fevered, delirious mind spinning out," Lucy said. "But I gotta tell you, Jack, it really felt real."
"What's this binding she was talking about?" I thought I knew, but I didn't want to be right.
"I think she meant something that would tie the doll to you."
Not good. So not good.
"What?" said Lucy. "Jack, what is it?"
"I gave her a Kleenex, Lucy, and it had my blood on it."
For those of you who remember reading Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl”, prepare for something completely different from the beatific ending he provides for the title character when you read Holly Bennett’s smart, dark twist on the tale. Bennett provides the Match Girl with an extensive backstory, creating a character we want to care for, even as we recoil from her neediness and destructive obsession. Bennett’s version of the Match Girl does not go to heaven but is caught in limbo, on the very street on which she died. The Match Girl also has the supernatural ability to graft herself onto a living human, and that living human is a carefree teen named Jack.
Jack is a recent transplant to small-town Ontario from sophisticated Montreal. On his second day at his new high school, he falls into a waking dream in the middle of math class and finds himself in a mist-filled alleyway, dank, dark, and completely silent. Silent, that is, until he hears a thin voice hawking matches. It’s a young waif of a girl with the traces of womanhood in her emaciated frame, and she tells Jack that she is the match girl, that there’s no one else here but she, and now, Jack, and any others were “swallowed up” by the mist. Before Jack can learn much more, he clambers back into the reality of math class when his teacher berates him for his beeping cell phone. The beeping is actually Jack’s alarm on his insulin pump. A Type I diabetic, Jack wonders if his insulin levels caused him to hallucinate, but his readings are normal.
On his way out of the classroom, he connects with a fellow classmate, Lucy Sullivan, but he is still shaken by his experience. On her way home, Lucy muses about Jack but decides that she wouldn’t be his type (but, of course, she is). Her musings are interrupted by a frightening apparition: a girl in old-fashioned clothing is “floating over the river”, “half made of mist,” and Lucy wonders if a drug she took in “The Year [She] Messed Up” has come back to haunt her. Lucy’s rooted to the ground with fear and shock as the apparition utters one word over and over again: “Jack? Jack?”
This is the creepy and promising premise of Drawn Away in which The Match Girl, whom Bennett names Klara, comes between the newly formed romantic couple of Jack and Lucy in her determination to pull Jack back into her world. The novel, related through the voices of the three main characters, is a quick, absorbing, and chilling read. The budding romance between Jack and Lucy is soon eclipsed by the very real threat of Jack’s being pulled into the Match Girl’s world. Jack and Lucy become sleuths together, trying to piece together ways to protect him and break the Match Girl’s power over him.
Bennett’s strong plot and pacing doesn’t sacrifice character development for the three main characters. For Lucy, this means the thawing of her relationship with her mother after years of feeling the betrayal of care and trust after her father’s passing which caused Lucy to spiral out of control and run away from home. Bennett also cleverly parallels Lucy’s story with that of Klara’s: Lucy’s mother selfishly withdrew into herself after her husband died, leaving Lucy to fend for herself and spiral into a self-destructive phase. Klara, too, is neglected by all the adults in her life, and Klara’s selfish desire to draw Jack into her world is borne out of loneliness and isolation. Jack, the most solidly grounded out of the three, is also the most vulnerable due to his condition. Klara slyly extracts a Kleenex from him in order to create a voodoo doll to entrap him permanently into her world, while Lucy races against time to learn some binding spells from the internet to keep Jack in the world of the living.
The novel also introduces two more voices from the past that shed light on the mystery. Jack trawls the local library for information about Hans Christian Andersen and stumbles upon a (fictitious) diary entry about his inspiration for the Match Girl—a real child he once encountered in his youth. This girl is Klara, and her mother’s tale is rescued by Lucy who uncovers Sigrid’s story when Lucy clears out her recently deceased grandfather’s attic. At the end of her life, Sigrid confesses that she fell in love with a young Irish sailor named Donal Sullivan, became pregnant by him, but was condemned by her parents to marry an abusive older man instead. With no choice, she enters into the loveless union. Upon Donal’s return to Denmark and his plea that they move to America together, she flees her husband with Klara. Klara’s grandmother pretends to aid Sigrid, but instead takes Klara away from her during the chaos of boarding the boat. Losing Klara haunts Sigrid Sullivan for the rest of her life, and she writes that she never forgot or ceased loving her first child. This connection to Lucy’s ancestry is a key piece to the resolution of the story.
Readers will be feverishly turning the pages toward the climax at which Jack becomes comatose due to his dangerously low levels of insulin and is in the clutches of Klara. Because technology, such as his insulin pump, doesn’t make it back to Klara’s world, he is hovering near death. The only person who can save him is Lucy, but how can she reach out to someone whose need to feel loved consumes the very person they care about?
Drawn Away has the power to take readers along for a suspenseful and ultimately mostly satisfying ride. This fast-paced read manages to create an antagonist whose plight equally demands our pity and our consternation. When Klara finally finds her peace, she gives Jack a chance to live a normal life she never got the chance to live for herself. The reader won’t be able to help rooting for Jack and Lucy’s future together, given all the supernatural drama their love has already survived. Not many teens can claim they were part of an eerie love triangle with a ghost from the past and lived to tell about it. Drawn Away would be a good addition to upper elementary and secondary school libraries as well as YA collections in public libraries everywhere.
Ellen Wu is a teen services librarian working in Surrey, BC, libraries.
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