S. & S.//Simon Pulse. Nov. 2019. 336p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781534439412.
Gr 8 Up–Ernshaw succeeds with a spellbinding tale of love, murder, and the occult for teen readers. Nora Walker, her mother, and every Walker female for generations have been labeled as witches for their mystical interactions with nature and their outcast status in the community. Nora is living alone in her rustic family home across the lake from the Jackjaw Camp for Wayward Boys when she discovers a body in the Wicker Woods. In time it is discovered that one boy is dead and one is missing. As the lies and secrets surrounding these events invade Nora’s solitary world, truths are revealed about the crime itself and the deadly powers of humans and the natural world. From the first sentence, the author entices readers into the strange warmth of Nora’s cabin and to the edge of the unforgiving woods. The malevolent timbers become more than a convention of setting, but a brooding, spectral character itself. The chapters are interspersed with pages of ancient histories and spells from the protagonist’s witch ancestors: “The Spellbook of Moonlight & Forest Medicine,” while the narrative is handed back and forth between the two main male and female characters for a varied perspective. Themes of first love, alienation, right vs. wrong, and teen angst give this novel contemporary appeal alongside its otherworldly fairy-tale allure. Some explicit language doesn’t detract from the engaging and unpredictable characters and haunting plot lines.
VERDICT A dynamic thriller for fans of paranormal fiction.

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