If you like a good, eerie witch story — complete with hundreds of cats running around with the souls of children imprisoned in them — then In the Forest of Light and Dark is your kind of book. It’s a superb YA/teen read that will appeal to older readers as well.
Its narrator, Cera Singer, is a spot-on example of a down-home, countrified Southern girl, sixteen, going on seventeen, with plenty of attitude and eye-rolling sarcasm, though she’s basically a good person stuck in awful circumstances.
Her mama and step-daddy are both unemployed and on the verge of having their home repossessed when, out of the blue, a certified letter arrives with the news that Cera’s grandmother in New York state has died, leaving them a Cadillac, more than $400,000 in cash — and a huge house that comes with a peculiar stipulation — they must move from their home in Alabama and occupy it for a full year, or the inheritance is null and void.
After much soul-searching, the family decides it would be best to make the trek to the tiny village of Mount Harrison, N.Y., and have a go at it. Only problem — it’s Cera’s senior year in high school, which means she’ll have to endure the agony of making new friends. However, this turns out to be the least of Cera’s obstacles to a happy life up North.
Right away, the persecution begins for Cera and her poor mama. Their return to the small town heralds a fresh surge of deadly occurrences — deaths and unexplained illnesses — allegedly owing to a long history of witchcraft in Cera’s mother’s family. The townies recall more than two hundred years of bad happenings, all blamed on the supposed spells cast by the female members of the family through the years.
As a result, Cera is persecuted at her new school and actively harassed before finally making a friend — Katelyn, who stuns Cera with the news that she herself is, in fact, a practicing witch, and had been the apprentice of Cera’s grandmother before the old woman died.
The story gets progressively scarier as the two teens ditch school for the day and Katelyn confirms that the 280-year-old spirit of the first girl convicted of witchcraft in Mt. Harrison — Abalona Abbott — still haunts the forest bordering the property, and — even after all this time — she’s still pissed at the villagers for drowning her all those years before.
It’s a good premise for a spell-binding story, one that teens and many others will undoubtedly enjoy. The author does a magnificent job of making Cera and the other Southerners speak as though they’ve never heard of proper grammar and he also either has a teen — or is not far out of his teens himself — because Cera and her young friends use the universal language of youth everywhere effortlessly. Whatever!
Five stars to In the Forest of Light and Dark. It’s a story of triumph over supernatural tribulation and a tribute to the awesome power of family and friendship.