Book Review: Weave A Circle Round by Kari Maaren

Title: Weave A Circle Round

Author: Kari Maaren

Genre: Speculative Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult

Publisher: Tor
Publication date: November 2017
Paperback: 336

Freddy wants desperately to not be noticed. She doesn’t want to be seen as different or unusual, but her step-brother Roland gets attention because he’s deaf, and her little sister Mel thinks she’s a private detective. All Freddy wants to do is navigate high school with as little trouble as possible.

Then someone moves into the house on Grosvenor Street. Two extremely odd someones.

Cuerva Lachance and Josiah aren’t . . . normal. When they move in next door, the house begins to exhibit some decidedly strange tendencies, like not obeying the laws of physics or reality. Just as Freddy thinks she’s had enough of Josiah following her around, she’s plunged into an adventure millennia in the making and discovers the truth about the new neighbors.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel

How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher

Format (e- or p-): Print

Review

When Freddy was eleven, her parents decided to get a divorce.

Distraught upon receiving the news, Freddy chooses to run into the woods and cry alone–except she’s not alone. A strange woman sits waiting for her and offers Freddy a small key with an odd set of instructions. First, Freddy is to use the key and clutch it whenever she feels upset or sad (the strange lady insists this will help her stop crying). Second, Freddy is to try the key in any doors she comes across (the lady says she isn’t sure which door that the key actually opens). Most importantly, Freddy is not to tell the woman later that she gave her the key (because the strange woman shouldn’t know that in the future).

Freddy accepts, and while she’s examining the key, the woman disappears. (Into the woods, Freddy assumes.)

Three years pass, and Freddy has a new stepfather and stepbrother. Her parents are basically non-entities in her life–busy with their jobs and commitments, Freddy, her sister Mel, and stepbrother Roland, barely see their parents at all–but that’s just fine to Freddy. Over the years, and with help from her key, Freddy has learned that the wisest course of action is to blend in completely. At school, she follows two of her more popular friends but always makes sure to keep her head down, to agree blandly with everyone, and most importantly to never, ever stand out. This is harder at home, with Roland, Freddy’s hulking fourteen-year-old deaf stepbrother, who has already hit his growth spurt and has an oxymoronic tendency to tidy up messes but also knock things over. Roland and Freddy do not get along–Freddy resents Roland’s presence in her home and life as well as his tendency to ignore and glare at her, not to mention the loudness and chaos of his incessant role playing games and annoying friends. The pair at least are united in their affection for their younger sister Mel, who is a certified genius, but has a tendency and passion towards solving mysteries and getting herself into trouble.

Enter two new characters, who crash their car while trying to move into the house across the way on Grosvenor Street: Cuerva Lachance and Josiah. It isn’t clear to Freddy (or to anyone) whether or not Cuerva or Josiah are actually related, though they claim to be–Cuerva is a mom-aged woman with a tendency to sharply change subjects and have circular conversations about everything and nothing. Meanwhile, Josiah is the most curmudgeonly old man fourteen-years-old that Freddy has ever met, with a tendency towards seeing things in black and white and with no problems expressing his opinion loudly to anyone who crosses his path. There is something very strange about Cuerva Lachance and Josiah–a mystery, in fact–and for some reason the pair is very interested in Freddy, Roland, and Mel.

And then Freddy and Josiah start to slip through time.

Freddy isn’t entirely sure if Josiah and Cuerva Lachance are telling her and her siblings the truth–but she knows that she has to figure out the puzzle (and where, if at all, her key fits in) if she ever stands a chance of coming home again, and protecting her siblings from a strange and terrible fate.

Weave A Circle Round is a hard book to properly talk about without giving away massive spoilers, though I shall endeavor to do my best:

This is a time travel story. It is a chaotic story. It is a story about a young girl who longs for invisibility only to realize the power in being an individual (odd and ill-fitting she may seem).

Weave A Circle Round is also a debut novel from Kari Maaren, and it reads like a classic work of upper middle grade/young adult fantasy, in the vein of Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, or Susan Cooper. (In fact, more than once I flipped back to the copyright page of this book while reading it to make sure it wasn’t a repackaged book from the 1980s–even though the master timeline is contemporary and has things like cell phones and the internet included, the novel’s styling and approach feels so much like a nostalgic book from late middle school reading. But I digress.)

At its plot-centric heart, this book is a mystery about three characters: Cuerva Lachance, Josiah, and Three. As Freddy and Josiah plunge through time (past and future, mind you), they see other versions of Cuerva Lachance, Josiah, and Three–Freddy has to figure out what it all means for her and her family. While the constant time slippage and overall plot are extremely chaotic and at times hard to follow, they somehow work within the context of the book. As this is a story about chaos and order and the ensuing struggle between the two and how they affect the very fabric of reality, the chaos of Maaren’s ideas captured in the structured format of a novel work in an entirely meta kind of way.

At its true heart, Weave A Circle Round is actually a character-centric story. This is Freddy’s tale, about trying to protect herself from emotion and heartbreak and then getting a wild chance to fully become and embrace herself. Similarly, I love the attention and nuance given to siblings Roland and Mel–Roland, who seems cruel and bullying at first through Freddy’s eyes, but who actually is stuck in his own loop of frustration with Freddy; Mel, who is brilliant and eager to be happy with both her sister and stepbrother, and who cannot resist a good mystery and accepts the logic of Freddy’s impossible explanations at face value.

Saving one’s family is hard. Figuring out how to stop slipping through time and understand the paradox at the heart of it all is even harder. (Especially when the laws of physics just stop working altogether and no one will give you a straight answer.) But hardest of all is growing up and trying to become a different, better person than you were yesterday.

Weave A Circle Round is a completely unexpected wonder of a novel. I adored it, and absolutely recommend it to readers of all ages–especially those looking to fill a Diana Wynne Jones shaped hole in their lives.

Rating: 8 – Absolutely Delightful

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