I think my reasons for reading A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz should be fairly self-evident in the title…Brothers Grimm-inspired, and dark and spooky for Readers Imbibing Peril!
The premise is very clever, promising to tell the true story of Hansel and Gretel, and then setting off through several Grimm fairy tales. When Hansel and Gretel’s father learns that his faithful servant, previously turned to stone in his service, can be restored if he chops his children’s heads off…he goes ahead and does it. Hansel and Gretel are restored to life, but (quite understandably) decide it’s time to run away from home. They encounter the wicked witch with her candy house, but also go on adventures through other fairy tales, struggling against dangerous magic and frightening or fantastically irresponsible adults.
With the exception of the original Hansel and Gretel story, these are not the best-known Grimm fairy tales, like Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. I recognized most of the stories, but I’ve read a good bit of the original Grimms…and considering my audience here, you might recognize them too!
There’s definitely constant excitement in this novel, with a new twist and villain at every turn. It actually didn’t feel as episodic as you might expect, though. With the constant thread of Hansel and Gretel as the main characters, the different tales wove together surprisingly well. There’s also an amusing narrator who occasionally stops the action to make remarks to the reader about the story. I might have liked a little more subtlety in weaving the narrator into the story…but that’s a choice, and once I got used to the narrator, the device worked well.
For all that’s good here, I do have one BIG reservation–I really don’t know who the target audience is meant to be. The style of the writing is clearly juvenile. There’s a simplicity to the language, Hansel and Gretel seem to be about 10 or 12, and there’s just a very strong juvenile feel to the book. However–there is a LOT of blood.
I feel a little strange pointing that out, because the narrator points it out too, in a very sarcastic, tongue in cheek kind of way. Early on, he keeps advising that little kids should be kept out of the room because they’ll be disturbed by upcoming sections. Those remarks read like jokes…but they’re true! The blood and the violence are told in the matter-of-fact style of the original Brothers Grimm, and there’s probably nothing here that wasn’t there…which still leaves you with blood, beheadings, dismemberment, two (unrelated) severed fingers, and all in all quite a bit of nastiness.
As far as I can tell from Gidwitz’s website, the blood is supposed to be a large part of the appeal. All the same, I haven’t the slightest doubt that if I had read this when I was actually the target age suggested by the writing style, I would have been thoroughly disturbed. There’s a bit in here about skinning a monster that I find slightly disturbing now. Conclusion: although I liked aspects of this, apparently I’m not the target reader.
So…I guess the natural reader is either a kid who doesn’t mind gore (and I’m sure there are ones less squeamish than I was), or an adult who doesn’t mind a simplistic writing style. If you pick it up, there’s plenty that’s well-done, but be warned that this really is inspired by the Brothers Grimm, not Walt Disney!
Author’s Site: http://www.adamgidwitz.com/
Buy it here: A Tale Dark and Grimm