November 21, 2017

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden | SLJ Review

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redstarARDEN, Katherine. The Bear and the Nightingale. 336p. glossary. Ballantine/Del Rey. Jan. 2017. Tr $27. ISBN 9781101885932.

STAR-AB4T-Arden-TheBearandtheNightingaleReading Arden’s debut novel is like listening to an entrancing tale spun out over nights in the best oral tradition. This mesmerizing fantasy takes place in medieval Russia, at a time when women had but two choices in life: serve their appointed husband by bearing his children and taking care of his household, or serve God in a convent. Vasilisa Petrovna refuses to do either. She has been a wild thing since birth, escaping her household duties to run free in the forest and conversing with spirits only she can see. But Vasilisa’s behavior is taken in stride until a charismatic priest comes to her father’s village, convincing his patronage that their custom of leaving offerings to curry favor from the spirits is sacrilege. Vasilisa knows that if this practice is stopped, the spirits will grow weak and be unable to defend the village when evil comes knocking. When first crops and then villagers begin to die, Vasilisa’s unladylike behavior and refusal to follow the priest’s teachings mark her as a witch in the villagers’ eyes. But she is not the one who is bargaining with the devil. Vasilisa is a strong female protagonist whom teen girls will want to emulate. She knows her own mind and heart and refuses to succumb to societal expectations, and her beauty stems from self-confidence rather than physical appearance. Arden’s lyrical writing will draw teens in and refuse to let them go. VERDICT A spellbinding story that will linger with most readers far beyond the final page.–Cary Frostick, formerly at Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA

This review was published in the School Library Journal April 2017 issue.

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