I’m just coming off of a long jag of reading the Outlander series. You know what it’s like when you immerse yourself into a literary world and the thought of leaving it is literally painful? Especially when you’ve had the privilege of staying immersed for weeks.
So, when coming off a jag like that, it’s easy to be disappointed in your next book. But there was this book that was sitting on our brand spanking new shelves just calling my name, and I surrendered to it. I’m so glad I did. The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell is my kind of book in that it is the retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story (I’m a sucker for a good fairy tale), with a twist.
Sand, the village blacksmith’s son, wakes to find himself in a cold fireplace of the Sundered Castle. Everything inside this castle was broken– everything, from the smallest pin to the walls themselves. Around the castle grows a wall of aggressive, poisonous thorns. Sand explores the building, trying to figure out how he got there, pleased to be inside the castle that has loomed over his village, stirring his curiosity since he was small, but increasingly frightened and dismayed by the cold, death, and destruction. Unable to leave, and not knowing what else to do, he sets about mending the various broken things, and trying to restore order to the devastated castle. I don’t want to give too much away, but Sand discovers the princess Perrotte, and together they learn the power of mending, imagination, and forgiveness.
I found the theme of forgiveness a really important one for a children’s book. It isn’t a fun topic, and is difficult to deal with well. There are religious overtones to the book, but I didn’t feel that it was out of place in the book’s medieval context. Haskell doesn’t treat forgiveness in a simplistic, “Just ask God to help you” sort of way, but gives steps to forgiving someone within the story in a completely natural way. Children suffer wrongs every day the same as adults, and The Castle Behind Thorns would be a great book for classroom discussions, or for parents and children to read together. Give this book to children who enjoy fairy tales, who like making things, or who enjoy stories about kids surviving on their own.