I picked up Where the Woods End by Charlotte Salter because, of course, it looked like a GU story, and because I liked the cover, and because it had a bloodthirsty weasel character and I’m partial to those. While many young reader fantasy tales are advertised as “dark” or “grim” this one truly pushed the limits especially during the first half, humorous weasel companion notwithstanding.

Kestrel is a girl living in a nearly hopeless world – a vast forest she can’t escape, filled with vicious animals and terrifying monsters, the worst of which are called Grabbers and build their bodies out of your own possessions while they stalk you and eventually kill you. Her village – the only village – is entirely populated with people who hate her, despite the fact that she spends her life hunting the Grabbers. Her father (a wolf hunter) is mostly absent, and her mother has become a frightening presence, sitting inside a web of magic and manipulating the villagers, including Kestrel, and threatening even worse. And the dead grandmother who trained her was unrelentingly cruel and punishing. Kestrel only has one friend (not counting the weasel), a boy who ends up betraying her with fairly little provocation. Truly, her existence is bleak, and not surprisingly her only goal is to get out of the forest, to a land beyond which she believes must exist, although she’s never seen it.

Things start changing (much to my relief, as the gloom was almost too much) when Kestrel encounters a monster in the forest who unlocks some memories she had repressed, and she begins to understand the true nature of her situation and the people around her. The more Kestrel learns about who she is, the closer she comes to defeating her Adversaries (primarily her mother and her own Grabber) and getting a chance for escape. Though in the end, like many Girls Underground, she must go alone.