Will bravery, kindness, and perceptiveness be enough to earn 12-year-old orphan Mary Hayes a permanent home with Madame Zolotaya, the elderly woman who rescues her from a terrible Buffalo orphanage?
Even if readers don't know Baba Yaga, they will probably recognize that Mary’s savior is a witch whose delicious meals are designed to fatten her up for the oven. “I am no one's mother” the wrinkled old woman says. Can she become one? is the underlying question, and the answer will be heartwarming to any reader. Madame Z lives in the woods outside Iris, a town full of people who profess to be masters of the occult: “con artists, fakes, and charlatans” she calls them. But there is real magic there, too, and Mary and her new friend, Jacob Kagan, son of a traveling illusionist, are determined to find it to ensure that they both will have permanent homes. There is suspense throughout and heart-stopping moments early on to draw readers into this immensely satisfying story. Woven into the traditional third-person narrative are intriguing details about magicians’ secrets and mouthwatering descriptions of Russian foods: blini, mushroom and potato dumplings, kulich with farmer’s cheese, and rye bread with holodetz, this last eaten on a peekneek.
Well-drawn characters, an original setting, and a satisfying resolution are the ingredients that make this carefully crafted middle-grade adventure a highly rewarding read. (Fantasy. 8-12)