ARC Review: The Thickety, A Path Begins by J.A. White

18651970Genres: Middle Grade, Horror, Mystery, Fantasy
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Number of pages: 496
Source: ARC from Edelweiss
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When Kara Westfall was six years old, her mother was convicted of the worst of all crimes: witchcraft. Years later, Kara and her little brother, Taff, are still shunned by the people of their village, who believe that nothing is more evil than magic . . . except, perhaps, the mysterious forest that covers nearly the entire island. It has many names, this place. Sometimes it is called the Dark Wood, or Sordyr’s Realm. But mostly it’s called the Thickety.

The black-leaved trees swayed toward Kara and then away, as though beckoning her.

The villagers live in fear of the Thickety and the terrible creatures that live there. But when an unusual bird lures Kara into the forbidden forest, she discovers a strange book with unspeakable powers. A book that might have belonged to her mother.

And that is just the beginning of the story.

This book surprised me. A LOT.

You see, a few weeks ago, I thought to myself that perhaps I should give an equal focus to Middle Grade books coming out this year for a variety of reasons: one, they’re usually shorter; two, the plot is more focused (therefore not all over the place), and; three, it’s more light-hearted than many of the Young Adult ones that I’m surrounded with. So when I found myself staring at an ARC of The Thickety: A Path Begins, I thought I’d finally read something that would give me all three.

Man, was I wrong.

My friends, do not read this book if you’re looking for something that could make you laugh and cry and be in cloud nine. This book is not it. This book will squeeze your pumping heart, pull your heartstrings, make you see red, and wonder why is there a thing such as ‘evil’ in this pitiful, pathetic world. It will make you hate humans and bratty, spoiled girls who are fond of power trips at the expense of others. This will make you scared of anything that resembles a forest. You will want to cover yourselves with blankets, and wish for bizarre shadows to go away. You will never see remote islands the same way again. The cold of the night will give you cold sweat, and the sight of rats and insects will make you run for your life. You will wonder if there is such a thing as happiness in this world.

I may be stretching it out a bit, but I shit you not when I say that this is a dark book. It may label itself as Middle Grade, but I don’t recommend giving it to children who are sensitive to dark themes such as death, dark magic, murder, psychopaths, and severe cases of ostracisation. It’s highly disturbing and atmospheric in a sense, and seeing children involved in these things makes it a notch more damaging to one’s mental self. This book honestly felt like going to hell, meeting the devil and its children, and then going back barely surviving the horrors you faced.

*shudder*

Kara’s mother was executed for allegedly killing two people through her witchcraft ways when she was 5 years old, nearly 7 years ago. Since then, Kara has been taking care of herself and her baby brother, Taff, making herself strong enough for both of them as they are constantly scrutinized, discriminated upon, and ostracised by the villagers for the mere fact her mother was a witch. One day, a bird beckons her to follow it into the Thickety, a mysterious forest with a dark life of its own, the very same forest where the Forest Demon, Sordyr, lives, making it forbidden and utterly dangerous. Deep into the forest, she sees the Grimoire, a magical book that eventually allows her to practice Witchcraft. From then on, she finds herself slowly discovering the cruel, awful truth… that magic is power, and power kills.

Like I said before, this is a very dark book. The treatment the villagers give to 12 year old Kara alone is enough to make you see red. It’s absolutely dreadful, and it even made me feel a wee bit depressed and sad for her. Nobody deserves to be constantly mocked behind your back for something you had no control over. Nobody deserves to have their house vandalized night after night by mud and dung. Nobody deserves to be bullied by seemingly charitable people like Grace who presents herself as sweet and innocent, but treats Kara inferior to dirt. From the get-go, you instantly feel for the main character and her little brother, Taff. The fact that their father has become a negligent parent because of what happened to his wife makes their situation all the more heartbreaking.

With that said, you’ll understand Kara’s frustrations, and even some of her dark thoughts. And when she gets her hands on the Grimoire, a magical book that stores spells for witches, you even feel like cheering on for her. You start to look forward to her using it to smite those who laughed and spat at her face. (I feel so evil now)

Surprisingly, this book got even darker at that point. For once, finally having power over others makes Kara’s ego balloon. The more she uses the book, the more she becomes obsessed with it, to the point of sleeping with it, and having nightmares when she doesn’t use it. At this point, you become concerned for her, and you’ll start to wonder if you even know this girl at all. That’s what happened to me at least. Chapter after chapter, Kara gradually became a trainwreck that it was painful to watch her slowly get overcome with power that was so easily abused. It felt like seeing another Sophie (School of Good and Evil) come to life. The character development from bad to good to bad to good was so strong and evident that her actions left me uneasy and full of trepidation.

Doki, doki, doki, doki…

Do you hear that?

That’s my heart beating fast and my sanity ebbing away. That’s how intense this book was.

And then, there is Grace: the girl with the white hair and beautiful smile who look at others with a twinkle in her eye. She is devil incarnate. She is CHUCKY in woman’s clothing. And you guys surely remember Chucky? That evil doll? If not, let me refresh your repressed memories:

I AM NOT FUCKING KIDDING.

I’ve never been scared and angry of a kid this much. This girl is absolutely heartless. She makes me scared of kids (okay maybe not, but she’s making me second guess them now). Characters like her lead me to believe it is hell on earth, because only demons can be that evil. Let’s just say if you’re not of the faint of heart, you’d really rather not meet this girl at all.

OKAY SCRATCH THAT PLEASE READ THIS BOOK SO I CAN SHARE THIS FEAR WITH SOMEONE!!!

Overall, here’s a checklist:

  • If you want a dark book with witches, hateful villagers, scary forests, and Chucky-like characters, this is the book for you.
  • If you like atmospheric stuff with a hint of horror, mystery, and thriller, this book is for you.
  • If you like good character development, this book is for you.
  • If you like a well-written Middle Grade book, and be damned scary stuff, this book is for you.

I think I shall rest my case here. My blanket is looking really cozy right now, and I want to sleep under the covers tonight.

P.S: THAT ENDING WAS SUPER, SUPER, SUPER, SUPER CRUEL. I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING AND WHILE IT WAS BRILLIANT, IT WAS SUPER HEART-RENDING AT THE SAME TIME. WAAAAAH!!

Rating Report
Plot
Characters
Writing
Pacing
World-building
Impact
Opening
Climax
Ending
Overall: 4.4
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Faye

Faye

A 21 years old Filipina who loves books, games, languages, and most especially, food. Secretly wishes to be an astronaut so she can explore the stars. Has a love-hate relationship with Philippine politics. To get in her good graces, offer her Foie Gras, Or shrimp. Or a JRPG. A YA sci-fi book works, too. You can follow her on twitter here: @kawaiileena

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    • Jack D says

      Wait… You teach a “middle grades book”?

      Read the book. It is awesome.

      I read it and thought it was one of the best, most exciting stories that I have read in a long time. An original plot, nothing processed and repeated from other stories. Middle school students (starting around grades 4/5) would love the characters, character development, story line and plot twists. It is not any more frightening than anything that is available on regular TV at the 8pm hour any given night.
      Jack D recently posted…ARC Review: The Thickety, A Path Begins by J.A. WhiteMy Profile

  1. says

    Great review, Faye. While I’m not a huge reader of MG myself, the darkness and the angst you alluded to sounds enticing. I have a 12-year-old reader at home whose in one of those ‘phases’, so she might actually enjoy this one.
    Joy (Joyousreads) recently posted…Archetype by M.D. WatersMy Profile

    • FayeFaye says

      I’m happy to hear that you think that, Joy. This is kind of one of a kind in the “dark” respect. I hope your daughter likes it!

    • FayeFaye says

      I know, Mel! When I got this book, this was hardly what I expected as well. I can’t wait to see what you think of it. I hope you like it as much as I did.

    • FayeFaye says

      Definitely! I love scary and dark books. They make me feel alive somehow, giving me reason to fear for something. Yeah it’s fiction, but if it gives you shivers down your spine, isn’t that a feat in itself? Thanks for stopping by :)

  2. says

    Mewantmewantmewant! One book from the list of everything I ever wanted :P Scary, dark, gritty MG books are like crack for me. And so are fluffy MG books, for that matter. Not stupid, adventurous MG books(except Percy Jackson) though because most of them are crap, like this one my brother is making me read to him because he’s too lazy- when monsters escape or whatever. UGHGHGHGHG! getthatshitawawawawawaway!

    You know, not the story itself, but your feels and all and the ending and scary kids remind me of how I felt about The Riverman. And that book just about fucking broke me and this one does too!!!! eeeeeeeeeeeeppppppp!(I’m on a good book high!)
    Stuti recently posted…We Were LiarsMy Profile

    • FayeFaye says

      Ooh, Riverman. I’ve yet to read that one, but I read your raving review and so I need to get that one, too :P I hope you like this one, Stuti!

    • FayeFaye says

      Would it be surprising if I tell you that I don’t regret – even one bit – putting Chucky in that post? ;) He was my childhood enemy, too. I would watch his movies while clutching someone else’s arm. Haha. He was that creepy!

  3. says

    WOW this reminds me of The Book of Lost Things, which is also super dark and gruesome, yet labelled as a YA and Children’s book. BUT IT DOESN’T MATCH UP TO THIS! I definitely wouldn’t give this to a young whippersnapper, but I would definitely read this myself!
    Valerie recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday #11My Profile

    • FayeFaye says

      Oooh, I have never heard of that book before. I am interested in checking that out now. I really hope you read this one. If you like gruesome and dark stuff and implied things done to you and gorey images (hahahaha), this will be perfect! :)

    • FayeFaye says

      Hah, I don’t mind really, though. I love it when authors explore beyond their comfort zones and try something new for a change. When a demographic starts getting stale, you know it’s time for something new! :D

  4. says

    I am such a wimp when it comes to picking up dark scary books especially ones which mess with your head. Books dealing with blood etc, I can cope with, so I even though I’m really really tempted to give this one a go (I want to know what happens in the end) I think I will keep this book to one side for now. And when I have the guts I will certainly give it a go! Thanks for putting this book on my radar Faye!
    Jasprit recently posted…Review: Far From You by Tess SharpeMy Profile

    • FayeFaye says

      Awww, I’m tempted to call you a wimp, but I shall go with the “understanding” route instead ;) Haha! Kidding aside, I DO understand your hesitance. There are some themes out there I won’t touch because of their heaviness and sensitivity. But at least you know about this book’s existence now! :D

  5. says

    Did I hear someone say “witches, hateful villagers, scary forests, and Chucky-like characters?” I’m in! Plus the character development sounds absolutely pheonominal; and that’s always what makes books special for me, so I’m glad to hear it was well-done. Definitely going to give this one a try and hope it doesn’t give me nightmares…haha! ;) Thanks for sharing Faye, and, as always, BRILLIANT review! <3
    Zoe @ The Infinite To-Read Shelf recently posted…We Were LiarsMy Profile

    • FayeFaye says

      Glad to see that I intrigued you, Zoe! That makes me happy :) Chucky-like characters are instant sellers for me, even though that freaky doll gave me nightmares when I was younger. I am absolutely hoping you like it, Zoe!

  6. says

    Oh man, oh man, this book actually sounds AMAZING. I haven’t had a book really move me in a while, but this sounds like something that will do the trick. It’s very intriguing to see a victim descend into something more, based on the effects of power. It sounds like one of those back-story novels where it explains the background of a villain, and how they came to be. But then you mentioned Grace and compared her to Chuckie. WTF, that picture. Nightmares right there Faye!! I haven’t hated a character deeply since Umbridge, so it would be cool to see how Grace lives up to it. Wonderful review, adding this to my TBR list asap!
    Joy @ Thoughts By J recently posted…‘The Fault in Our Stars’ Movie ReviewMy Profile

    • Faye says

      Hahaha! I really hope it lives up to your expectations, Joy. I love this one a lot! I know what you mean – stories about supposedly good characters spiraling out of control when they find addictive power are kind of fascinating to read. It definitely gives leeway to a lot of philosophical thinking :D

    • FayeFaye says

      Haha. Seeing how many people here have commented about Chucky, it only means to say he has severed many people’s childhood! Wahaha!

      And yes! I love that this book is not cliche at all. It’s dark that even adults like me can read it without much eye-rolling.

    • FayeFaye says

      Yeah, I don’t really recommend it to kids who are sensitive to somber things. At least read it with him or her if you’re planning to introduce this one to them, so you can explain whatever things need explaining :D

  7. says

    “This will make you scared of anything that resembles a forest.”

    Can I just say that I am THOROUGHLY creeped-out right now. I don’t want to be scared of anything vaguely resembling a forest. ALSO–creepy kids are the WORST. And this is middle grade?! What the what? On the brightside, this might actually be perfect for me, LOL. I like to be freaked out, but not TOO freaked out, so freaky as this is, I’ve got to be able to handle it, if it’s meant for 12 year olds. Right? RIGHT?!
    Jessica @ Rabid Reads recently posted…Review: Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel BachMy Profile

    • FayeFaye says

      I knooow. I saw some really cool forests in France from a distance and they seemed so romantic and surreal. Now I’m not sure if I want to go inside haha. YOU CAN DEFINITELY HANDLE IT, JESSICA!

  8. says

    I am so so curious, but this book looks way too scary for my taste. Are there really middle grade children who read books like this? They must be waaaay braver than I am. Also, Chucky is way too creepy. That picture might appear in my dreams. D:
    Francine Soleil recently posted…The Grief of CliffhangersMy Profile

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