Friday, December 18, 2015

Book review - The Door by the Staircase

Title: The Door by the Staircase
Author: Katherine Marsh
Genre: retelling
Similar books: Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola
                     Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

a nice change of pace
Summary (provided by publisher): Twelve-year-old Mary Hayes can't stand her orphanage for another night. But when an attempted escape through the stove pipe doesn't go quite as well as she'd hoped, Mary fears she'll be stuck in the Buffalo Asylum for Young Ladies forever.

The very next day, a mysterious woman named Madame Z appears at the orphanage requesting to adopt Mary, and the matron's all too happy to get the girl off her hands. Soon, Mary is fed a hearty meal, dressed in a clean, new nightgown and shown to a soft bed with blankets piled high. She can hardly believe she isn't dreaming!

But when Mary begins to explore the strange nearby town with the help of her new friend, Jacob, she learns a terrifying secret about Madame Z's true identity. If Mary's not careful, her new home might just turn into a nightmare.

Award-winning author Katherine Marsh draws from Russian fairytales in this darkly funny middle-grade fantasy novel

My opinion: Baba Yaga is truly an underappreciated folk character. Unlike European fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not all bad. Sure she’s a witch and she eats children. She also, occasionally, rescues them. She helps them out of desperate circumstances. In short, of all the fairy tales witches she is the most human. And that is the idea behind this novel. I suspected the true identity of Madame Z fairly early on but more in an anticipatory way than any real annoyance or impatience. Mary is a great character, a heroine with spirit and sturdiness yet with fears and weakness. Add in a town full of wonder in Iris and a delightful sense of atmosphere and this book is a joy to read. It is historical fiction but touches of magic will entice upper elementary readers. This is a great pick for kids who enjoy fairy tale retelling but are ready for something other than the standard princess tales.

More information: The Door by the Staircase releases January 5.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

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