Monday 9 December 2019

Review on The House with Chicken Legs

Is it possible to escape your fate? Marinka is destined to be the next guardian of death, a job that involves guiding the dead into the afterlife. Although her grandmother, Baba Yaga is doing her best to teach Marinka how to be a guardian, all Marinka wants is for her house to stay in one place long enough for her to make friends with the living. Marinka longs for a friend who will stay more than a day, but things are never that simple when your house has chicken legs!

I’ve heard a lot about this book, so when I saw it at the library I had to pick it up! I don’t read as much middle grade fiction as I’d like to, and I often prefer it over YA so I’m going to do my best to read more! I loved that this book was based on Russian folklore. We often see retellings of popular fairytales like Cinderella and Snow White, but I’ve never come across a book that focuses on Baba Yaga before. Even though I’d heard of Baba Yaga I didn’t know much about her, and I actually spent a bit of time researching her before starting the book! In most cases she is portrayed as a scary looking old witch who usually tries to hinder the hero in some way, often threatening to cook or eat them, but she has also helped people, such as saving a girl from her abusive family. I loved that Sophie decided to portray her in this way rather than as a villain. Instead of tormenting people, the Baga Yaga in this book helped the dead pass into the afterlife and was a kind old grandmother. I loved her relationship with Marinka, and how she had raised her when her parents died when she was a baby. I loved that she helped all the dead, no matter if they were confused, upset or scared. She was selfless and always prioritised the dead over herself, and I found it to be an interesting take on her character.

I loved that other Yaga existed, all who guided the dead and had houses with chicken legs. I couldn’t find a mention in the original stories of there being other Yaga, and I loved how Sophie took Baba Yaga and made her into her own character. I loved the idea of there being hundreds of houses with chicken legs running all over the country, and it made me wonder how many sightings had been reported. I imagine chicken leg house sightings would be similar to UFO sightings!

Even though I liked Marinka, she did come across as quite selfish. When Baba goes missing, her main motivation for trying to bring her back seems to be that if she comes back she can resume her role as guardian, meaning Marinka won’t have to become the next guardian. Even though Marinka does seem to genuinely miss Baba, that doesn’t seem like the main motivation for her search. Being forced into something you don’t want to do can be horrible and I sympathised with Marinka for that, but her selfish side came out when she refused to guide the dead. When the dead don’t pass through the gate and remain in the living world, they eventually fade out of existence. Marinka didn’t seem to care about this, and despite the house urging her to help them she refused. She was cruel to Baba, the house and her pet jackdaw at times, and didn’t appreciate those who looked after her. I loved that Marinka eventually came to realise she was pushing people away, and that she didn’t have to change everything about herself to make friends.

I of course have to talk about the house! I loved that the house was a sentient being, capable of thoughts and emotions. I loved Marinka’s relationship with the house. As she had grown up living in the house, it had become both a parental figure and friend to her. I loved how the house was able to change depending on Marinka’s needs, such as creating a safe place for her lamb to stay in and creating new rooms. The house sounded homely and had a sense of safety despite it being able to run. Honestly I wish I had a Yaga house so I could travel without having to pay for transport and hotels.

One of my favourite characters was Benjamin, a living boy who Marinka becomes friends with. He was such a sweet character and I loved that he stayed with Marinka even after he saw the house stand up. Honestly if I saw a house running towards me on chicken legs I’d probably die of fright! Benjamin adapted to the situation quickly and I loved that his main priority was helping Marinka. Along with Benjamin, Marinka has two animal friends, a lamb and a jackdaw. I particularly loved Jack and how smart and funny he was. I always love animal companions and Jack was no exception!

I have to briefly talk about the gorgeous illustrations that ran throughout the book. The downside to reading mostly YA is that YA books rarely have illustrations, so I loved coming across them in this book. As a lover of space and galaxies I loved coming across these illustrations. However, as much as I loved the pages with white text on a black background, it made me think of my friend who struggles to read it. Even though it was pretty, it could potentially ruin the reading experience for anyone who struggles to read white text on a black background.

I adored this book and would recommend it to adults and children alike. Although the story was mostly light-hearted, it also touched on some important themes such as grief, guilt and loneliness. I also loved how despite not having a family, Marinka came to see Benjamin, his parents and the Old Yaga as her family. It perfectly showed that family doesn’t always just mean the people you’re related to. I recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy, adventures and fairytales!

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