Vassa In the Night by Sarah Porter
Summary from Netgalley:
In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.
In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.
But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair….
I have read some Baba Yaga stories, ones that I thought were based on the original Russian folktales. Most of these had Baba Yaga as an evil person but with some kindness in her. The main one that comes to mind is Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll by Hiawyn Oram. In this story Baba is so impressed with the child’s ability to complete her tasks that she gives her a toad to take home. When she arrives home the toad eats her mean sisters. Still nasty but still somewhat nice. Other modern stories with Baba Yaga have her as a slightly mean but grandmotherly figure who still helps out others when needed, (Sisters Grimm and Egg and Spoon). So I started this story with a slightly skewed vision of Baba Yaga. Apparently in the original folktales (ones that aren’t watered down or Disneyfied) Baba is quite nasty and evil, who knew.
I looked up some of the versions that the author recommends reading in her activity guide and I was surprised to find some of the creepier things that happen in this book are from these stories. Such as the disembodied hands. Although these hands kind of grew on me through out the course of the book, especially Dexter, they were still really creepy and nasty.
The version of Baba Yaga in this book, Babs, is a real piece of work, she is truly evil and nasty and doesn’t give any thought to cutting off people’s heads, or hands for that matter. I’m not sure I really understood what she was trying to accomplish with her store and with the motorcycle guy, but not understanding didn’t take away from the story.
Vassa, the main character and narrator of this story, was someone I struggled with. At times I really liked her, but then she would make a decision that was just plain wrong and I wanted to slap her. She was also a little bit wimpy and whiney at times. By the end of the story I did come to appreciate her and admire her perseverance in the face of such a struggle. I really liked her relationship with Erg, her wise doll. Erg was really irritating at times, but by the end you understood why and do forgive her for it.
There are some other minor characters that I liked, such as the motorcycle/Night person. He was an interesting character, but I don’t want to spoil the story by saying too much about him. I felt sympathetic towards him and his plight but frustrated that he couldn’t help Vassa more. I also like Tomin, although we don’t see him much, he always shows up at the right times and offers help and encouragement to Vassa when she really needs it.
The setting was awesome. I liked that the BY store was Baba Yaga’s house with the chicken feet and needing to sing to it so you could get in. I also liked that it was set in NY. Even though most of the action in the story takes place in the store and parking lot, NY was always there in the background.
Overall this book is good, I liked it but it was really weird. There were times when I had to get my right brain to beat my left brain into submission so that I could read.
Left brain: This book is so weird and doesn’t make sense!! Stop reading it!!!
Right Brain: Shut up! It’s ok. Look it is getting better, just go with it!
There really were a couple of times that I almost put the book down and thought about not finishing it, but I’m glad I didn’t. It was very beautifully written also, the descriptions and dialogue were amazing at times. It has a very satisfying ending and that made it easier to overlook the weirdness.
ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Here is the book trailer by the publisher: