Seven Wild Sisters, by Charles de Lint, illustrated by Charles Vess (Little, Brown 2014) is a lovely book qua book, and a lovely story qua story.
12-year-old Sarah Jane is the middle of six sisters, moved from pillar to post all around the country before coming to rest in the Appalachian hills. There Sarah Jane makes friends with "Aunt" Lillian, a reclusive old woman who lives even further up in the woods...who is rumored to be a witch. But Sarah Jane doesn't see any signs of that, and she comes to enjoy spending time working alongside Aunt Lillian on all the many tasks that need doing, and listing to the stories--so many magical stories--that Aunt Lillian tells.
And then one day Sarah Jane learns that the magic is real, and she finds herself right in the middle of the story of two feuding factions of fairy folk (not your typical Celtic sort of fairies, but more nature-based). It's not a comfortable place to be, especially when your sisters are kidnapped and held hostage. The stakes are high...but Aunt Lillian has friends in strange places, and brave hearts and sharp wits are powerful weapons on their own account.
It's a really satisfying story of Sisters in Danger. The girls are different enough to be memorable, and they clearly care about each other. And the danger is real enough to be exciting, and the adventures are vividly told. It's young reader friendly, yet even grown-readers able to accept this fairy world of warring nature fairies may well find it as appealing as I did.
And on top of my enjoyment of the words, I was very taken with the loveliness of the book-- both the full page illustrations and the smaller pictures at the beginnings of the chapters, and sprinkled throughout, enhance the story beautifully.
Seven Wild Sisters is a companion to Cats of Tanglewood Forest, set many years after that book--you don't need to read Cats first. Though that one didn't quite work for me (mainly because it was told in episodic style), but this one I thoroughly enjoyed--nice straight narrative where bit by bit (as more and more sisters get kidnapped) the tension grows! My one slight reservation is that it begins with a prologue from Aunt Lillian's point of view, setting the stage by telling of the fantastical characters we're going to meet, so those who like to jump right in to things may need to exercise a bit of patience (I'm thinking of younger readers here; I trust most grown-ups to be able to read prologues without twitching....).
Here are a few personal reasons I liked this one: Weeding is portrayed as worthwhile and rewarding. And older woman gets to play an important part in the story. The happy ending involves the contents of an old chest.
Seven Wild Sisters was first published by Subterranean Press back in 2002; I am glad it has been republished--there is nothing else quite like it in contemporary middle grade fantasy, and it made a lovely change.
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher