Title: Vassa in the Night
Author: Sarah Porter
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release Date: September 20th 2016
In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighbourhood.
In Vassa’s neighbourhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.
But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighbourhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…
– Blurb courtesy of goodreads.com
My Thoughts On…
Things are different in Vassa’s neighbourhood; there is a store which dances on top of chicken legs and where shoplifting is an offense that results in the loss of your head, and where the nights keep getting longer and longer. Although the sun still rises and sets at the correct time the hours in between seem to stretch forever.
Vassa knows better than to go to BY’s. When her mother died she gave Vassa Erg, a small wooden doll who is not only live but has a penchant for stealing, and made her promise to keep her hidden from the world. However one night, when all the bulbs in her house have blown, Vassa has no choice but to go to BY’s to get some more.
Baited into going by her half-sister, who believes it is Vassa and not Erg responsible for all the things that go missing in their room, and unable to back down from the challenge Vassa finds herself in BY’s. However she soon discovers that things in the store don’t follow the normal rules; the items on the shelves are strange and foreign to Vassa, and they seem to keep moving. Not only is she unable to find the light bulbs she needs but there is something following her around the store.
Accused of shoplifting by the owner Vassa pleads for her life and manages to gain a reprieve; she is given three nights, three night to work in BY’s and prove her honestly. Her first task is to work the cashier and make sure nothing is stolen, if there is even a cent missing from the tills in the morning Vassa will soon be missing her head.
However her tasks are not as simple as she first assumes. When Vassa opens the till the bills fly away; stolen by customers who run out of the store and past the barrier of heads which mark the boundary of BY’s. The following night, only surviving thanks to Erg and pure luck, Vassa’s next task is even more impossible for her to complete.
As the three night pass, with her days spent sleeping in one of the back rooms, Vassa starts to become wiser to Babs games, and instead of waiting she starts seeking out her own answers. There is no one to save Vassa, no one she can rely on other than Erg and the mysterious motorcyclist who rides around and around the car park. Instead Vassa needs to make her own path and save not only her own life, but the lives of the innocent people who have wondered into Babs store.
Vassa lives with her step-mum, her half-sister, and her step-sister, and has done ever since her own mother died and her father left. However she doesn’t fit in. Asides from Erg, a wooden doll Vassa keeps secret from everyone who lives in her pockets and steals from her sisters, Vassa has no friends and wants more from life though she doesn’t know what. Vassa is not unnecessarily brave, she is scared of BY’s and Babs but she is a kind person. She doesn’t enjoy seeing people risk their lives in BY’s, and the attachment she feels to the motorcyclist means she can’t leave him trapped by Babs.
At the beginning Vassa understands little of her situation but the more time she spends in BY’s with Babs, the more time she spends with the motorcyclist, and the more she manages to pry secrets from Erg’s wooden lips the more she learns about her past and her destiny. There is something more at play than just Vassa wandering innocently into a BY store and finding herself in possession of stolen items.
While there are plenty of other characters who make up this story it’s mainly about Vassa’s journey. There’s Erg, who is Vassa’s only friend. She knows a lot more than what she is saying, and although she cannot reveal much to Vassa she is dedicated to keeping her safe and keeping her on the correct path. There’s Tomlin, who along with his friends takes part in risk shopping in the BY store. He sees something different when he looks at the heads of shoplifters stuck on pikes around the boundary, something different when faced with the threat of the BY’s stores. Even Vassa’s styep-mum and sisters have a presence in her life though they are mainly seen through her thoughts and memories rather than in person.
Babs in a enigmatic character; we see glimpses in her past and her history with Vassa, which in a way started before she was even born. Babs is not a nice person. She tricks shoppers into trying to leave with stolen items in their pockets so she can take their heads, she sets tasks for Vassa which she knows she cannot succeed, and she has no acceptance for failure among those who work for her. However there is something more to her character, something she is attempting which is connected to the reason the nights are now so long.
Vassa in the Night is set in a small neighbourhood of Brooklyn, a world apart from the glitzy world where Vassa spent the first eight years of her life before her mother died. We don’t see much of Brooklyn itself but we see the differences between the two neighbourhoods through Vassa’s eyes and her memories. For the most part this book is set at BY’s, a chain of supermarkets where nothing is what it seems. The buildings stand atop chicken legs and unless someone calls it down it dances around the car park, contained though by a boundary of heads on pikes. Inside it could be any other superstore, just with an eerie feel to it. The items for sale are not what you would normally find, if you can find them at all, and there is something which follows you around trying to sneak things in your pockets. There a real magical atmosphere to this book, you feel like anything is possible as you read it and later discover that not only is it possible but it’s already happening.
As a book which has been described as magical realism I expected Vassa in the Night to be a little confusing. However there were a few times I was just plain lost. Overall I loved the story, loved the characters, and loved the setting; I even loved the fact that this story was based on a Russian folklore tale, Vasilisa the Beautiful. That didn’t change the fact though that some aspects of this book were too strange for me to follow.
What did you think of Vassa in the Night? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.