I review Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg, for the Lovereading Review Panel.
We were the Family, and Foxlowe was our home.
There was me – my name is Green – and my little sister, Blue. There was October, who we called Toby, and Ellensia, Dylan, Liberty, Pet and Egg. There was Richard, of course, who was one of the Founders. And there was Freya.
We were the Family, but we weren’t just an ordinary family. We were a new, better kind of family.
We didn’t need to go to school, because we had a new, better kind of education. We shared everything. We were close to the ancient way of living and the ancient landscape. We knew the moors, and the standing stones. We celebrated the solstice in the correct way, with honey and fruit and garlands of fresh flowers. We knew the Bad and we knew how to keep it away.
And we had Foxlowe, our home. Where we were free.
There really was no reason for anyone to want to leave.
When I receive a book for review, I tend to read the blurb and that’s all. I don’t want to know what the story is about; I want to discover it for myself, read it as if the narrator is speaking directly to me. And so, when I picked up Foxlowe, and started reading about the Bad and the Family and how the inhabitants had to protect themselves from outsiders, I wasn’t sure if I was reading a dark dystopian novel, post-apocalyptic maybe, or something else.
It turned out to be something else. Foxlowe is the home of a cult, a group of women, men, and children living freely together. Nobody really belongs to anyone, but everyone belongs to each other.
The cult is centered around the Solstice, how the sun drives out the dark and the Bad, the evilness that lives inside us. Led mostly by Freya, the Family lives by basic rules and standards. They grow and kill their own food, running water is scarce, and the children run barefoot in the mud, unconcerned with schooling, hygiene, or typical routines.
The narrator, Green, seems to be Freya’s daughter, who she worships like the goddess she’s named after. But Freya isn’t always kind; the children endure Spike Walks, scratching themselves on rusty nails to drive out the Bad. They get Edged, ignored by the Family and left on the outskirts. Violent punishments are commonplace, and hunger is not unheard of. But still, Green is happy.
Green, Toby and Blue grow up together at Foxlowe. As children, they band together, look out for one another, and share intimate moments. But when the pressure of the Family becomes too much, Green crumbles, and her story unleashes an awful tragedy.
A horrendous tale of child abuse and neglect, of the ways in which our families can skew our minds and make us believe things are fine, are right, when they’re not. The struggle to detach from what we’re told and what is true. Wasserberg writes such horrors with a steady hand and beautiful prose. This is yet another book that I imagine we’ll be seeing on the big screen very soon.