Recommended for ages 12+
A retelling of the Russian folktale “Vassilissa the Beautiful” introduces readers to a surrealistic, modern-day Brooklyn where magic and mayhem rule the day. Vassa is a teen living with her stepmother, half-sister, and stepsister; she really only gets along with Chelsea, who isn’t even technically related to her. She also has a wooden doll, Erg, that is alive and a bit of a kleptomaniac, but Vassa can’t tell anyone about her, so everyone thinks she’s the one with the problem. Mean-spirited Stephanie sends Vassa to the store in the middle of the night to pick up light bulbs, but the only store open is the awful BY’s, where they behead shoplifters and leave the heads on pikes outside the store. Vassa goes to the store, fully aware that Stephanie is trying to get her killed.
When she arrives at the store, she discovers that the outside of BY’s is just the beginning of the weirdness, and that she’s caught up in it more deeply than she could have guessed. She’d better hold on tight to Erg if she wants to get out alive.
If you love your fairy tales fractured, they don’t come any more flipped than Vassa in the Night. Magical realism fans will embrace this story and so will fans of surrealist writing. Vassa is a smart heroine who undertakes a hero’s journey here; Baba Yaga – called Babs here – is appropriately awful, and Erg emerges as the best sidekick since C-3P0 and R2D2 teamed up. There’s great character development, cringe-worthy moments, and some beautiful storytelling. Every time Sarah Porter describes the swans that gather around Vassa, I just want to close my eyes and listen to the beating of their feathers around me. There will be moments where you have to put the book down and wrap your head around what you’ve just read, but it’s all worth it. Read the original folktale here first if you want a better grasp on the story, or just dive in if you like to live dangerously.
Sarah Porter’s author website has more information about her books, a gallery of artwork (some inspired by her books), and updates from the author.