Author: Sophie Anderson
If you enjoy stories with magic, adventure, folklore and heart then this book is for you. Ideal for children in Years 5 & 6, I am sure those younger and older will love it too – I did and it’s a VERY long time since I was 10!! I can imagine it will work especially well when read aloud – or secretly, under the covers at bedtime by torchlight – preferably snacking on something traditional (or fishy!) and wrapped in a horsehair blanket. Published by Usborne (May 2018) I would read it quickly – before Sophie’s next masterpiece (The girl who speaks bear) is released in September.
Marinka is a young girl who has her whole life ahead of her and knows exactly what she’d like to do with it – adventure, explore, experience and live! Which is exactly the problem, as the majority of her life is focused around death – or at least the dead. She lives with her grandmother, Baba Yaga, who is a Guardian of The Gate and their destinies dictate they must commit to guiding the dead to the stars, so they are not lost forever.
This destiny weighs heavy on Marinka and is absolutely not the life she would have chosen for herself – no matter how happy and fulfilled it seems to make her grandmother.
They live together in a very special house – a house with chicken legs! – which frequently ups sticks and changes location. Together, they travel the world to remote and exotic destinations that most of us would only dream of visiting. They only constant being the dead. The relationship between the three of them (Marinka, Baba Yaga and the house) provides an emotional rollercoaster throughout the story and beautifully illustrates generations, hope, trust, loyalty, taking people for-granted, tradition, home, regret, kindness and unconditional love. In a word – family!
I felt a real empathy with Marinka for most of the story but on occasion was also very frustrated with her. I wanted to reach into the pages and shake her at times – screaming in my head to try and get her to see what was in front of her. This element of Sophie’s writing really captured the spirit of youth, the nature of not wanting to ‘listen to elders’, learning from your own mistakes rather than valuing the vast experiences of others and sometimes just sheer determined, stubbornness. It was interesting to follow the ebb and flow of young and old throughout, as well as the shifting balance between selfishness and selflessness – facing the consequences for our actions and decisions and the impact of these on others (whether intended or not).
Each time I felt settled into the story, the chicken legs of the book would untuck themselves (from their folded position underneath) and canter off in a surprise direction. I really enjoyed these unexpected twists and, while I don’t want to give anything away, they brought heart-stopping-moments, sharp in takes of breath and scanning back through previous pages for clues that I should have seen it coming – all positive signs I’m enjoying a book!
I loved the way Sophie envelops the reader and completely immersed me into a new world – sights, smells, sounds and sensations galore. I really connected with Marinka (and Baba Yaga) and enjoyed the traditional, folklore feel to the story too.