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Vasilisa
Three witches, two children, one ogre—and nowhere to run. It’s 1919, but in Edenfall, Pennsylvania, the Great War is not over—not for Vasilisa, at least. Papa is presumed dead on the fields of Flanders, Mama is being courted by an absolute ogre, and now Babka, her beloved grandma, has had a bad spell. Or has she fallen under one? Only the Old Tales, the Russian fables Vasilisa was raised on, offer any comfort or counsel. But what if they are more than child's tales? Enter Ivan, who jumps a train for Edenfall at midnight and finds Vasilisa in a real fix. He’s on his own quest, but Old Rus is calling from across time and both worlds, and if they heed the call, they might both get what they want. But it won’t be easy. Three witches, two children, one ogre – they’re outnumbered and outclassed. Baba Yaga and Old Koschei are after the same thing—and each other—and the children are caught in the cross-hairs. Vasilisa has a secret weapon, in the humblest of guises, but will the meek truly inherit the earth? Or will the mighty prevail? One thing is certain: it’s a fairy tale of their own making, a tale whose happy ending is ever in doubt.

Semi Finalist

Plot/Idea: 10 out of 10
Originality: 10 out of 10
Prose: 10 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 10.00 out of 10

Assessment:

Plot: Thirteen-year-old Vasilisa Petrovna Nikolayeva does not believe in fairy tales. Yet. This is a remarkable novel with folktales interwoven seamlessly with the tribulations of a junior high school age girl finding a place in a not always accommodating world. In addition, it is rich in history, relating much information about early twentieth-century Russia and the Bolshevik Revolution with which American readers are not likely to be familiar. And, as appropriate in any hero’s quest, there are mysteries to solve, questions to be answered and tasks to be accomplished, all in a universe where the real and fantastical merge effortlessly.

Prose/Style: Here is to be found finely-crafted prose of a grace and precision not often found in young adult novels. The vocabulary and syntax are perfectly suited to middle school/junior high school reader, and the names of the characters are wonderfully inventive and authentic.

Originality: The combination of Russian folk tales, fantasy (including a few witches and an ogre), history, and a coming-of-age story is unique. Julie Mathison has written a story that has meaning on many levels and is therefore a compelling read.

Character Development/Execution: Mathison’s depiction of the young teenagers here indicates careful observation and deep sympathy with the personal and social challenges girls face in early adolescence. Babka is portrayed as a wise and sympathetic older woman without relying on the typical trappings of a “fairy godmother.”

Blurb: A stellar YA novel full of adventure, history, fantasy and a careful observation and deep sympathy with the personal and social challenges girls face in early adolescence.

Date Submitted: July 26, 2021

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