Published by Henry Holt & Co.
Summary: Samantha and her older sister Caitlin have recently been moved from their parents’ home to live with their Aunt Vicky and her wife Hannah. Although the reason is unclear at first, it has to do with Caitlin’s broken arm. Caitlin seems happy to be there, but Sam misses her parents and her best friend and wants to go home. When Aunt Vicky gives Sam her favorite card game, A Game of Fox & Squirrels, the characters begin to come to life for her. Ashander the fox is charming and handsome, and promises her he’ll get her home if she can successfully complete a series of challenges before the next full moon. Maple, Birch, and Cedar are three squirrels who help and encourage her. Sam is eager to do what Ashander asks, but as the challenges continue, his rules start to change, and he begins to show a more frightening side. Before long, Sam is in over her head, and isn’t sure where she belongs. Aunt Vicky and Hannah are kind, and between bouts of homesickness, she starts to recall more troubling aspects of her life at home. Ashander still holds out the promise of home, but is Sam willing to pay the price he is demanding? 224 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: This seems to be the year for books that examine child abuse, and this one does it in a way that blends fantasy with reality. Sam starts to see her father’s traits in Ashander, with just the right amount of tension bordering on horror. I hope this will be considered for some awards.
Cons: There’s a lot of inferencing required to understand what has happened to Sam and Caitlin; that along with the blurry line between reality and fantasy may be confusing for some readers.