Finding Baba Yaga by Jane Yolen
Book Title: Finding Baba Yaga
Book Description: : A young woman discovers the power to speak up and take control of her fate – a theme that has never been more timely than it is now… You think you know this story. You do not. A harsh, controlling father. A quiescent mother. A house that feels like anything but a home. Natasha gathers the strength to leave, and comes upon a little house in the wood: A house that walks about on chicken feet and is inhabited by a fairy tale witch. In finding Baba Yaga, Natasha finds her voice, her power, herself… A mythic yet timely novel-in-verse by the beloved and prolific author and poet Jane Yolen, “the Hans Christian Anderson of America.”
Book Author: Jane Yolen
Book Format: Paperback
Date published: 2018-10-30
Number Of Pages: 131
Writing - 9/10
Development - 9/10
Overall - 9/10
User Review( votes)
Review: Finding Baba Yaga by Jane Yolen
Jane Yolen is well known for her ability to write fractured fairy tales, as she prefers to call them. She can take any fairy tale of legend and twist and beat it until it’s something new, something herds. Sometimes her fairy tale twists will be on a happier note, other times they’ll lean more towards the original story, with a grim and dark conclusion.
In Finding Baba Yaga Jane Yolen seeks to retell the story of the famous witch. In this retelling, she has decided to go with a verse format. That’s not unheard of for her since she enjoys writing poetry…but it still makes for a unique piece of work.
Let’s take a minute to talk briefly about Baba Yaga. It’s helpful to know the original tale before reading a fractured one. Trust me – it can get really confusing otherwise. Baba Yaga is from a Russian fairy tale. Legend has it that she’s a witch, deformed or otherwise, usually described as looking kind of scary looking. She flies around in a mortar (yes, the kind used for crushing herbs and spices) and uses the large pestle as her weapon/tool. Her house is told to be more of a hut, but the most notable feature would be the chicken legs that support it.
Baba Yaga is an unpredictable character, on the whole. In some stories she’s maternal. Other stories depict her as the villain or is a hindrance in some way. In yet other tales she helps travelers on their way. Perhaps it all depends on her mood? Or on the behavior of those she meets?
Finding Baba Yaga is a novella in verse form. All in al,l there are almost eighty different poems in this collection. However, each and every one of them ties together. Think of them as small chapters in the greater part of the story. Each poem takes charge of a different point in the plot. The titles did a great job of immediately indicating what they were going to be covering…without sounding quite so bold or bland.
The writing in Finding Baba Yaga was remarkably fluid. The verses just flowed together so perfectly, that there were times where I simply forgot that I was reading a collection of poetry. I was actually a little bit sad when I reached the conclusion. I felt like I could have continued reading, learning more about the main character and what was going to happen next.
There are only three characters of any real import to the story, as far as the main perspective is concerned. There’s Natasha (the main perspective), Vasilisa, and of course Baba Yaga. Natasha is the character that we have the easiest time connecting with. Through her eyes we see the world, and likewise we can feel her pain as it occurs. Baba Yaga does feel more maternal in this story…yet also aloof and enigmatic at the same time. Vasilisa felt more like a doll at times, but there are reasons for that.
Natasha is the classic example of a runaway child. She came from a bad home, and part of her likely knew that if she ever wanted to survive to adulthood that she would have to leave. When she found Baba Yaga she found so much more. She found her purpose, she found family. She found her power.
Vasilisa is everything that Natasha is not. Again, there are reasons for that. We’re being told a story in a short amount of time, so everything has a meaning. Vasilisa is intentionally Natasha’s opposite. She isn’t there to heal, like Natasha. And likewise she doesn’t have the same connection to the other two characters, nor does she every imply the need or want to stay. These are all very important points to the story, and important lessons for Natasha.
You can see many of the traditional elements of Baba Yaga in this telling. From the way she looks and acts to where she was located. Even her home felt traditional. The twisted part of the telling comes from the shift of focus. The tale does involve Baba Yaga, but it’s not about her. Not really. Yes, she is important to both the characters and to the plot, but that doesn’t make her the central point of it all.
The story progresses rapidly throughout the course of the novella. That’s not terribly surprising, as the storytelling style lends to a quicker pace and tale. There’s no time for wasted lines or points. Everything serves a purpose.
As mentioned above, the entire tale is from Natasha’s perspective. As such we follow her from her time before Baba Yaga up until the conclusion of the story. This gave us a chance to get to know Natasha better. It also had another advantage – Natasha was the unknowing perspective in this tale. What she learned we learned, and so on. It gave Jane Yolen the excuse to explain some basic concepts, without feeling like she was talking down to us.
I honestly would not have complained had Jane Yolen decided to continue the story, instead of leaving off where it did. That’s not to say that the conclsuion didn’t make sense – it did. More than I can still see the potential in the space that was left.
Finding Baba Yaga is a unique experience. It is so many things wrapped into one; a fairy tale, a twist on the classics, a novella, and a story told in verse. It’s also a coming of age story, and a story about acceptance. It’s not every day that you can find something so small and compact that carries that much within it. For that reason alone I would say that Finding Baba Yaga is worth reading.
I’ve read a decent amount of Jane Yolen’s works, but by no means have I read all of it. Out of everything I’ve read by her so far, I’d have to say that Finding Baba Yaga sits as my favorite. At least, for now it does.
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