This book is magical realism set in a dystopian version of Brooklyn, New York. It’s a magical place where the nights last longer and the corner convenience store jumps around on chicken legs and flies around until the children sing the jingle convincing it to land. Inspired by the Russian folklore tale Vassilissa the Beautiful, this fairytale is dark in the way the original Grimm’s tales are dark.
Vassa isn’t herself a magical being, probably. But she enters the world head-on, accompanied by a sentient doll, Erg, a gift from her dead mother, who is a constantly-eating, overprotective kleptomaniac with a plucky personality. Vassa is stubborn, strong-willed, and fearful. She makes mistakes. She makes things happen.
Vassa starts the story frustrated and feeling unloved. She and her two sisters fight, so Vassa takes off in the night to ‘show them’ by heading to the store, despite the heads of supposed shoplifters displayed on stakes around the parking lot like warning signs. Instead, she ends up trapped in the magical world of the witch, Babs Yagg, forced to stay working at the magical convenience store under penalty of death.
At once strange and foreboding, this story is really the story of a girl who finds power within herself. It was especially powerful that, despite being a YA novel, her motives are not related to romantic relationships. Throughout the journey of the story, Vassa learns about the world and her place in it. She discovers secrets of where she came from, who her mother was, the power of the love of her sisters, and the strength of friendship.
Be prepared for the world to be quirky and weird. Expect the story to get dark, it borders fantasy and horror in equal measure. Still, it was a worthwhile journey and an excellent read from a strange new beginning to it’s bittersweet end.