Young Marissa believes her mother is a witch, but she also thinks her mother is lying to her about certain things. What Marissa believes to be memories of the past keep intruding on the present. As they go to meet the elderly mother of her mother's boyfriend, some things come to light that may change everything.
I believe Burning Castles is the shortest story in this anthology. This is probably a good thing, because I really struggled to understand what was happening in it. For that same reason, however, being short may also have been a bad thing. The story is written from our main protagonist, Marisa's first-person POV, but the tale she tells made me feel a bit like I was wandering through someone's dreams. She shifts back and forth between past tense narration as she recalls conversations she had with her mother and present tense narration of the things that are happening in the here and now. Also the events felt really disjointed to me, and I had a hard time figuring out what one thing had to do with another. The story had a rather surreal feel to it, and I have a strong feeling there is some greater meaning to be found within its symbolism. I think perhaps it had something to do with reincarnation, but the exact explanation eluded me. The only thing I could make of it was that Marissa was reliving a past life or the past had come back to haunt her or something of that nature. If I, as an adult, had trouble discerning the story's meaning, then I'm pretty sure most of the kids and teens at whom Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron, the anthology in which it is found, seems to be aimed likely will too. In addition, the ending was rather abrupt, disturbing, and didn't leave me with any positive feelings at all.
I'd never read anything by M. Rickert before. Other readers seem to have found beauty in her writing style, but while the writing was certainly competent, I think it just may not be for me. I've never been good at parsing hidden meanings in literature, and much prefer the stories I read to be much more straightforward, while this one seems to be steeped in mystery and oddity.
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