Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

10:00 AM

Title: Vassa in the Night
Author: Sarah Porter
Release Date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: Tor Teen
Pages: 304
Source: ARC provided by Raincoast Books
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Overall: 3 STARS

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 her years of experience teaching creative writing to students in New York City public schools, acclaimed author Sarah Porter weaves a dark yet hopeful tale about a young girl’s search for home, love, and belonging.

Sarah Porter's Vassa in the Night is strange. Very strange. Magical and dreamy, I'm still not sure I fully comprehend everything that happened in this book. Sometimes it read like a grim and ghastly fairy tale, the classic kind where body parts are gruesomely cut off and the wicked witch loves to trick her victims. I loved these moments when you could tell Vassa in the Night drew inspiration from the Russian folktale "Vassillissa the Beautiful". I loved that it was really macabre and unsettling, that you had to be cautious and fully on your guard around Babs Yagg, the owner of the local BY convenience store with a penchant for beheading customers.

Vassa lives in the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn with her stepmother and two stepsisters: Chelsea and Stephanie. Chelsea genuinely considers Vassa to be part of their family, but Stephanie hates her. So it's not surprising when Stephanie sends Vassa off to BY for light bulbs after midnight, despite the store's dreadful reputation. When Babs accuses Vassa of theft, she's forced to remain at BY for three nights to work off her debt. Babs would love to see Vassa fail, but the old witch doesn't know Vassa has help in the form of Erg, a mischievous wooden doll that's been constantly at her side since her mother died years ago.

I mentioned that I loved the fairy tale aspects of the book, but there were times when the plot took such an abstract, weird turn. You know how when you're dreaming, something really random or bizarre can occur that would make no sense in reality? Vassa in the Night was like that. Sometimes, you just had to go with it and see what would happen next. And yes, it could be confusing at times, but it was also oddly captivating. At one point in the story, Vassa ventures into Babs's private rooms trying to discover a way to free Night, and it was like tumbling down the rabbit hole and finding myself in Wonderland. Really disorienting. The magic in Vassa in the Night follows no pattern or incantation; it's wild and unpredictable, full of possibilities, but difficult to grasp.

I think Sarah Porter's Vassa in the Night is one of those books where you'll either embrace it in all its magical weirdness or you'll find it too nonsensical to really enjoy it.

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