Written by: Kari Maaren
Published by: Tor
Reviewed by: Marissa Harwood
WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND is a YA fantasy novel featuring Freddy, a fourteen-year-old girl, and her siblings Mel and Roland, who get mixed up in the magic of storytelling. It starts on a normal late summer day, when two strangers move into the house next door. They are Cuerva Lachance, a distractible woman with a unique sense of style, and Josiah, a grouchy teenager who looks upon Freddy and her siblings with immediate dislike. As time passes and the children start school, Josiah among them, it becomes increasingly clear to Freddy that something is off about her neighbors. Indeed, by the end of September Freddy has been whisked away on time-traveling adventure with Josiah. Along the way, she starts to learn the truth about Josiah and Cureva Lachance, a truth that follows her back into the present and leads Freddy and her siblings into a chaotic final battle.
This is a charming novel, with narration and dialogue full of wit and sarcastic humor. It’s uniquely whimsical, and Maaren incorporates many allusions to pop culture and literature. Freddy’s adventures are constantly changing, and while the time-travel shifts can be jarring, they are consistent with the rules Maaren set up for her world.
As a character, Freddy is a realistic young woman with a clear arc. She starts the novel as a passive person, angry about her parents’ divorce and hateful toward her stepbrother for disrupting her family. She lets the anger build and build, but never does anything about it. She follows her friends blindly, mimicking their interests even as she feels herself falling out of their favor. It isn’t until she and Josiah are thrown into the past that she really starts to stand up for herself. She learns to be assertive, a trait that comes in handy at the end of the novel.
While WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND is engrossing and fun, it does have a few issues. The first is that Maaren, like many authors before her, falls into a trap common in the YA genre: absentee parents. Freddy’s mother and stepfather hardly appear in the book at all—in fact, there are only two scenes in the entire novel where they play any active role. While this does give Freddy’s character additional conflict, it mostly feels contrived, an easy way for the author to avoid complications between the parents and the neighbors and to put the children in a situation where they can get away with doing whatever they want. It’s a little too convenient, and it makes the realistic part of the story less so. This is problematic, as it weakens the contrast between what is normal and what is weird, and makes the story feel less grounded.
The second issue involves the main conflict of the story. By the end, Freddy and her siblings have to work together to right an ancient wrong. While their personal investment in the issue is clear, the greater consequence of their failure is not. Maaren’s hints at what could happen if they do not succeed are vague and infrequent, so it’s not obvious why the reader should be so invested in their victory. Additionally, the end of the novel is at times confusing and difficult to follow, which further clouds the significance of the characters’ success and lessens the impact of the climax.
Despite these issues, WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND is well worth a read, especially for fans of Lemony Snicket, Madeleine L’Engle, and Rick Riordan.