A dream-like version of Brooklyn thrives in Sarah Porter’s Vassa in the Night, a clever and modern twist on the classic Baba Yaga legend.
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 is at once familiar and bizarre, with magic seamlessly woven into the everyday. The story is very much surreal, but if you can go with it — just go with it — the result is a dreamy, unexpected modern twist to a classic fairy tale.
Filled with dark turns, Vassa in the Night is a unique tome for the young adult shelves — and I’m certain some readers will be put off by its strangeness. It is not your standard fare, but that is truly what makes it so special. Porter has crafted a masterpiece of modern magic realism, and given new life to a very old tale. Readers will be charmed by Erg, and Vassa’s determination to stop Babs and bring back the day.
Reminiscent of Neil Gaiman and dark fairy tales, Vassa in the Night is a poetic and hypnotic story about discovering your own inner strength, and the power for good to overcome evil. Look for it in stores tomorrow.
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