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