Vassa in the Nightby Sarah Porter
Published by Macmillan, Tor Teen on September 20th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Urban Fantasy
I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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, Vassa in the Night weaves a dark yet hopeful tale about a young girl’s search for home, love, and belonging.
If I was asked after BEA 2016 to pick the one book I received that I was most intrigued about and excited to read, I would have answered Sarah Porter’s Vassa in the Night. Not only was this book handed out to readers wrapped up like a present, it had amazing marketing pieces included with it. But we readers know a thing or two about pretty covers and style versus content. All the pretties won’t “wow me” if this book doesn’t give me a good story.
I’m happy to report I was “wowed”.
Vassa in the Night has a lot going for it. It has an absurd storyline featuring Baba Yaga, magic, “fairy” Godmothers, all set in modern day Brooklyn. It took a while, but the cover will make sense by the time you’re done reading the book (patience is a virtue!)
It will help you GREATLY if you read or are familiar with the Russian fairy tale “Vasilisa the Beautiful“. Vassa in the Night is a “spin” (pun completely intended) on this fairy tale but it doesn’t follow it exactly. Ms. Porter makes it modern, adds in new elements, and tosses in horror and a teeny, tiny bit of romance. It’s bizarre, it’s Brooklyn, NY, and it’s bloody fun. Perfect for upcoming creepy Halloween reading.
Vassa lives with her “hodgepodge” stepsisters, Chelsea and Stephanie, in a Brooklyn apartment with her stepmother. Just before Vassa’s mother passed away, she gave Vassa a tiny toy doll. She told Vassa to carry it around with her everywhere, no matter what. And if she ever needed help, all Vassa had to do was feed the doll and the doll would tell her what to do. But this type of magical “protection” isn’t always easy to live with when it makes trouble for you with your stepsisters….
So there you have one part of the Russian fairy tale… now how did Ms. Porter work in Baba Yaga? Well, it seems she’s running the corner bodega called BY’s. And it’s there that Vassa goes to buy lightbulbs in the middle of one of the longest nights Brooklyn has seen in the past few months.
Hey, look! Light bulbs are even on sale!!
Trust me when I say this all makes sense in context. Mmmm, lagoon tarts….
This is an extremely visual story so if you don’t have the patience to sit back, relax, and let the images come out in the words, I don’t think you’ll enjoy this book. This isn’t an easily skimmed story. I mean, you could if you wanted to, but you’ll miss little details like the swans and who they are (oops! ∗covering mouth∗) or severed heads on sticks.
I thought Ms. Porter did a great job giving life to characters who weren’t really “alive”. Some characters, like the “lawyers”, were just so original I never knew what they were going to do next. Sinister and Dexter had emotions without the aid of voices, eyes, or bodies for that matter. And I loved Tomin…. oh he was something else 🙂
The story isn’t really that long and even thought I got quite confused about the ending (“What does it all mean?!?!”), I can look past that to the merits of the story and the world building. Ms. Porter has so much potential that I can’t possibly be expected to wait long for her next work. Chop, chop…
Young adult readers looking for stand-alone modern-day fairy tale retellings.