Monday, September 19, 2016
review: vassa in the night by sarah porter
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. . . .
Inspired by the Russian folktale Vassilissa the Beautiful and Sarah Porter’s years of experience teaching creative writing to New York City students. ~ Goodreads
Source: ARC provided by the publisher (Tor Teen) in exchange for an honest review
Vassa in the Night was one odd story. Vassa was given a wooden doll named Erg by her mother, before her death, years earlier. Oh – did I mention that Erg is a smart mouth, ravenous, thieving, talking doll that only Vassa can hear? Erg gets Vassa in a whole lot of trouble with her step mother and sisters.
One night after Erg gets Vassa in trouble for stealing - yet again – her angry and vindictive step sister sends her to the local store for lightbulbs. No big deal. Except BY’s is a store that dances, has decapitated heads on poles that serve as a warning to shoplifters, and is owned by an old woman, Baba Yagg, who puts curses on people.
After accusing Vassa of shoplifting, Baba Yagg gives Vassa three nights of servitude in the store to prove her innocence and earn her release. Vassa makes friends with the stores faceless watchman and avenging swans while trying to avoid the severed hands crawling around trying to kill her. Like I said earlier - this is an odd story!
The whole time I was reading Vassa in the Night, I could see it in my mind as a Tim Burton movie. Modern day Brooklyn, NY is the perfect backdrop for this tale. Something about it makes perfect sense. It doesn’t seem weird at all that people still shop at store that kills its shoppers. lol
You just kind of have to go with it if you’re going to enjoy this book at all. Vassa in the Night is magical realism and although I’m not a big fan or magical realism, it worked for me here.
The magic, while creeptastic and awesome, somewhat overwhelmed my ability to form a connection with Vassa and kept this from being a WOW – 5 star book for me even though it was fun. Vassa's problems with her dad, step mother & sister ended up not having the emotional impact it could have.
This book is strange, imaginative, gory and a touch sentimental but also a bit confusing as the author slowly reveals the history of Vassa’s parents and Erg while alternating with the more exciting story of Vassa’s adventures at BY’s.
I think readers are going to find this weird and wonderful or just plain weird.
I would suggest reading a sample first if you can to see if the writing pulls you in.