Like a Hal Hartley movie for children, this book follows two siblings through a couple of days in an innocuous, unnamed suburban town that is new to them. There are perils - an old lady wants to eat them and the town librarian is untrustworthy. Notably, their own parents (who are not really their parents) want to get rid of them. Yes, it's Hansel & Gretel in the Twenty-first Century.But Sol and Connie can handle it. Quirky in an understated way, resourceful and brave, the siblings face their fears, reconcile their emotions, and outwit the witch in a remarkably implacable way. I'm not kidding. Hal Hartley for kids. It's weird.
But weird funny, not weird weird, and not without suspense. The tone is calm, almost austere, throwing the more unusual bits of dialogue and plot into sharp relief. My kids, at least, really responded to the author's matter-of-fact presentation. No punches pulled, but no excess build-up either.
Yoko Tanaka is the perfect illustrator for this tale, by the way. Her big-eyed figures are just alien enough, and her landscapes are just normal enough, to underscore the dreamy sense of disconnect that runs through McGowan's prose.