The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children. If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company. And there are no strangers in the town of Near.
These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life. But when an actual stranger—a boy who seems to fade like smoke—appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true. The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him.
As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know—about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.
When I began reading The Near Witch, I wasn't sure that this was a book that I was going to enjoy or even be able to get through. It sounded intriguing enough, but I was quite wary. I loved being proved wrong every minute of reading this. The Near Witch is an enchanting tale of magic, family, and first love set against a small-town backdrop of suspicion and fear.
Enter the town of Near--an undefined, historical town settled in the moors, where the wind sings through the windows and the people live in fear of those things unknown. When a stranger arrives in the town, there is an immediate panic, which escalates as children begin disappearing from the beds in the dead of night. Could this stranger be to blame? For most of the villagers, he is the obvious person--and the easiest--to blame. But Lexi believes otherwise; she will go to great lengths to prove this stranger's innocence.
Lexi was a character that I liked from the very beginning. Her tomboyish nature and clear, unwavering love for her mother and sister (and deceased father) combine to create a lovable, real main character. I especially connected with her profound desire to protect her sister--a natural response between close sisters. Lexi is the type of character who knows what she wants/believes and doesn't waver from those things. She proves this over and over again during the hunt for the children--never wavering in her belief that it wasn't the stranger, never giving up searching despite set-backs. She was strong and courageous, even in those moments when the reader was allowed a glimpse of her loving nature and true despair at her father's death.
The stranger, whom Lexi names Cole, is intriguing throughout and I never quite knew what to make of him. Don't take that the wrong way--I thought he was perfectly done. The "strangeness" of him complemented the town of Near and it's fear of the outside. His friendship with Lexi stood to complement the situation more and more as she struck out on her own to find the children, even when the people of Near didn't believe her. Now, I will say that the romance between the two seemed to pop up out of nowhere. I saw it coming in a sense, but I thought that it progressed at an interesting, slightly too sudden tempo. I liked them together, but they didn't have enough to get to know each other before that first kiss pops up.
Overall, Ms. Schwab has written a truly stunning novel, one that I can't wait to buy for myself and read over and over again (and maybe pass along to kids someday).