Somehow, I forgot how important that this was that I read it before book club, and wanted to post it early. I could not. Thus I read this at the end of January and am only posting it now, after I had the book club meeting. Last book club book for this month.
Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.
That being said… Spoilers ahead.
Guest by Mary Downing Hahn
Synopsis From The Book
When her adorable baby brother is replaced by an ugly, ill-tempered changeling, Mollie is determined to find the so-called Kinde Folke who took baby Thomas, return the changeling she calls Guest, and make them give Thomas back. Natural and magical obstacles and her own reckless temperament make her journey arduous and full of dangers, and a plot rich in surprises and twists makes this book a must-read for Mary Downing Hahn’s fans.
Fantasy | MG – PW |Fairy Horror, Threats of death | Acceptance, Family, Love, Lies vs Truth, Illusions
Initial Thoughts Before Reading:
Got this for my friends and I, from the Scholastic Book Fair. We do a small book club together and since I can get four for the price of two at the book fair, it just seems right. I picked this one, loving the idea of magic and changelings. I low expectations that my friends will like it as much as I might.
I’m reading this (in January), trying to get it to clear my book aversion. I doubt that it will, but one can always hope.
Initial Thoughts After Reading:
Oh goodness. I think a part of me expected for it to end more happily, and for how it did… I think it works. It was a bittersweet ending for a bittersweet book, and rather dark when I consider the age range this book is written for. So I think that makes me really love it.
It was not a hard book to read in any capacity, but it was also not an easy one. Reading this gave me the desire to read a few of the other books I own about Changelings that I really like.
The novel begins with Mollie, a child, who has the most lovely brother in the world. She knows not to compliment him or else the Kinde Folk would take him and leave one of their own. She accidentally does so after her brother gives her his iron necklace of protection. Her brother Thomas is replaced with another baby that she calls Guest.
The local Hedge Witch comes to their family and tells them to be kind to the baby and maybe their baby would return. Mollie’s father leaves, unable to love the creature, and Mollie watches as her mother withers trying to feed the baby. All the baby does is cry and scream and so one day Mollie takes the baby towards the woods to find the Folk to trade for her brother.
Instead of leaving the Changeling to die, as most do, she transverses into the woods after speaking with a peddler that always gives her pretty beads. In the forest she meets a man called Madog, who tells Mollie that Guest can walk and speak. Guest starts growing faster, and starts to try help Mollie out. Mollie and Guest grow closer. Madog is revealed as Guest’s father, and another boy, Guest’s half brother, comes to help.
Mollie keeps getting attacked by the Folk. Mollie first hears her name and is almost drowned but is saved by Madog. She had ignored Guest. The second time she ignores him again, but he’s stronger so able to hold her down, but they are still attacked by will-o-whisps. The third is when they are close and she hears a baby crying. She is attacked by a wolf, because she didn’t wake Guest, but she uses her necklace to escape.
Madog helps them to the kingdom of the Folk and she and Guest arrive. They speak to the queen and find Thomas who has aged to seven. He does not believe her. Mollie finds from another one of the Folke that her brother is to be sacrificed. Mollie is tricked a fourth time, and is about to be consumed when she hears Guest’s voice and uses her iron necklace to escape again. That night, when Thomas is “married,” Mollie steals him away, and then with Madog and Madog’s son, they flee. They get away and the Dark Lord who gave the Kinde Folk their powers takes their powers back. Thomas’ regal clothes turn to mud and leaves. Mollie takes Thomas to her house and tries to convince her parents of the truth.
Madog is revealed as the peddler. Some of the Kinde Folk come to reiterate to Thomas that Mollie speaks the truth. The parents agree to take the three of them, and get them all cleaned up. The book ends with the three kids sitting looking out to the sky.
What I Liked:
Use of Fairy Lore; I always like seeing how people use Fairy lore in their own works. The use of Changelings in this one, I particularly enjoyed, along with other myths of Fairies. It was quick in many cases, and didn’t go into much detail but it did go a bit in, but it gave enough to get some people interested.
Mollie; This girl grows so much in the course of this story. She learns to accept Guest and what he is, while also learning to stand for herself. She still needs to learn the weight of her words, but I know that will come to her in time.
Guest; This boy must be protected. He was forced into a land where the food did not suit him. He was cast away from that new home, when they did not love him. He learned to grow up in the hate of those around him and still turned out good? I love him. He deserves all the love in the world, nothing less.
Thomas; I feel so bad for him. The poor boy was raised in lies, and when he hears the truth he does not believe it because the lies were so beautiful. He is a spiteful child now, despite being such a perfect child before. I really think he proves that even the kindest people are shaped by their environment. I hope that he learns to accept the truth for what it is, and becomes happy.
Madog; What an amazing man, for as best he can be. He protected and guided Mollie and Guest the entire time. He watched Guest from his job as a peddler, and made sure to protect them when it was time. Yes, he couldn’t raise Guest, but he did his best to be there when needed and that was what mattered. Mollie could not have succeeded without him.
Mollie and Guest; Their relationship goes from hate to love in the best way. Their bond as siblings can not be questioned and I’m so happy that they grew so close. Most of this was on Mollie’s end, but I do believe that they will become the best of siblings as they continue forward.
What I Would Have Liked or Changed:
Mollie’s Inability to Learn in regards to the Folk; For all the growth that Mollie has, I do wish she’d have learned to trust Guest a bit more. At first it makes sense, but Mollie does not fall to illusions just once, but multiple times. The first I excused because it made sense. The second was okay, because guest forced her to listen. The third should have made her realize that she was not safe (hearing the baby cry, thinking it was Thomas). She fought that one off on her own and that should have been the defining moment in trusting glamours. However, later on after she faced the Queen, she still fell for it thinking the Kinde Folk were her parents. Guest saved her again by calling out to her. I think this one could have been different. I think she should have, by this point, understood glamours and been more apprehensive. Although, I did know what the scene was saying and what it did. So if we don’t take the third as the turning moment, but this one as such, then it should have been the LAST time that Mollie trusted anything that Guest did not trust.
This is why the last scene with The Kinde Folke, although they were good and there to help with Thomas, bothers me so much. Guest tells Mollie that he does not trust it. Mollie should have listened, or I think she should have listened. She instead does admit something is odd, but tells him its fine. It’s not! Even if they were good people, she should have listened. I think this bothered me, because for a character that grows so much otherwise, this part of her is rather stagnant despite it not making sense. She’s already almost been killed so many times by not listening to Guest, I’d think she’d listen at this point. If it were meant to be a fatal flaw, it bothers me because I don’t think that it works for the rest of her character. Mollie is inherently not trusting. She doesn’t trust the hedgewitch that helps their family, or Madog at first. She doesn’t trust the Kinde Folk when she sees them or first knows them, and doesn’t trust Guest. So why is it that she’s so trusting in strangers, after her ordeal?
Its a disconnect for me, at least.
Book Club Thoughts:
The book is really good for its age range. We did like its execution and simplicity. My friends did have to remember it was for MG, and so they were a little less harsh on it when they remembered that.
‘Over our heads, a rook cawed and another answered. One dipped down and brushed my cheek with the tip of its wing. Together the rooks flew toward Mirkwood. Their harsh cries sounded like laughter.’ – pg 214