Winner of the 2004 Nautilus Award this charming though repetitive fantasy is geared more towards juvenile readers then adults as it follows Ben and Sara, his sister coming of age. The two adolescents are understandably upset over the death of their beloved mentor, Grandma Daphne. By her side Ben and Sara learned much of the secrets to be found in the woods surrounding Daphne’s comfortable home. For some reason those same woods terrify their mother Lily and although she has reluctantly agreed to live in the house for a year according to Daphne’s wishes, it comes with a great many conditions. Lily allows her old fears to turn her into a control freak bent on keeping Ben and Sara from going into the forest they love.
Ben seeks an answer to the riddle Daphne and his grandfather put before him and in doing so, runs into the dangerous hermit Daggett who has patterned his life on Ishi. Sara discovers a secret journal from her grandmother where she learns of a love affair between Daggett and Daphne. This discovery casts everything Sara holds dear about her grandmother in doubt, leaving her feeling deceived and deeply confused.
Daggett is captivated by Sara seeing her as his beloved Daphne, confusing the two until he cannot distinguish between them. Daggett forces Ben into quicksand, hopefully to die as he stalks Sara, bidding his time until he is able to lure her from safety. Once Daggett gets her into his secret, underground abode, he drugs her into a sleepy stupor where Esther, a spirit guide, takes her to safety.
Under Esther’s care, Sara learns the deepest mysteries of the soul although her parents are frantic with worry over her disappearance. Extensive search and rescue attempts turn up little useful information although Matthias, a very talented three-legged bloodhound comes closer to solving the riddles then most of the humans. Sara and Ben eventually learn the lessons Daphne so wanted them to know and it becomes their task to instruct their parents.
The basic storyline is sound but there times when it becomes redundant as the same point is hammered into the reader repeatedly. More troubling are the assorted loose ends and questionable plot points. Somehow, Sara forgets all about her grandmother’s affair with Daggett as that storyline is dropped. Despite repeatedly telling the children that if she ever felt her family threatened, Lily would be packing them all back to the city, upon Sara’s return there is no mention of leaving. Unaccountably the parents gain an appreciation for the forest and decide to learn some woodcraft from their kids. Daggett is a huge loose end as Sara’s kidnapper and Daphne’s lover, he is delusional and potentially dangerous but that part of his character is unsatisfactorily glossed over. Enjoy this light tale, just don’t expect too much from it.