Blending Russian folklore with a contemporary American teen’s narration of her departure from an abusive family situation, Yolen’s (Monster Academy, 2018, etc.) entry into the Baba Yaga canon packs an emotional punch.
When Natasha first runs away from home, she’s not sure where to go. Intent on escaping the father who scrubbed her mouth out with soap for speaking a “bathroom word,” she walks farther and farther into the woods and eventually finds herself at a little hut with chicken feet. The house’s owner, Baba Yaga, delights in “the ones who stick out their tongues, / laugh at death threats, use foul language, never beg”—all while completing a massive list of chores, of course—and Natasha soon begins to thrive in this existence. The arrival of pretty, blonde Vasilisa triggers uncomfortable, unquantifiable feelings, especially once she leaves Natasha—and Baba Yaga—behind for a prince. Natasha remembers her father saying, “words have power.” The longer Natasha lives in the hut, the more she learns from Baba Yaga; Gradually, she comes to see her as family and learns she’ll “be the Baba ever after.” Baba Yaga enables Natasha to discover her true self. The elegant, black, cut-paper–style chapter ornaments emphasize the novel's fairy-tale roots and offer a whimsical counterpoint to Natasha's modern voice.
Yolen’s wordplay is sharp, engaging, and evocative; even folklore-illiterate readers will be enchanted by this slim volume. (Verse novel. 12-18)