Monday, 30 September 2019

The Girl who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson

https://www.goodreads.com/book/photo/43893965-the-girl-who-speaks-bear
👍👍👍👍👍
Published by Usborne Books

Yesterday, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I managed to take a sneaky hour to curl up on the sofa and finish The Girl who Speaks Bear. This is a book I was incredibly excited about after being swept away by Sophie's debut novel The House with Chicken Legs...and it most certainly didn't disappoint.
There are strong echoes of The House with Chicken Legs in this novel. Both are based on Sophie's love of Russian and Slavic folktales and, to my delight, a Yaga house (not Marinka's but another one that links directly to The House with Chicken Legs) features heavily in the plot. This instantly gave the book a familiar and nostalgic feel, as I wasn't ready to say goodbye to the Yaga houses at the end of Sophie's first novel. It also carves out Sophie Anderson's identity as an exceptionally talented re-teller of the folktales she has always adored. The world she writes about is all intrinsically linked by magical tendrils and Sophie's passion.
In this tale, Yanka is comparable to Marinka. Both have a mysterious past which they must discover in order to make choices about their future. Yanka feels she doesn't fit in to the human world, whereas Marinka is desperate to belong to it (rather than being destined to guide the dead). Both stories explore the coming of age, when a teenager draws away from their family in order to experience a wider world and find out who they really are.
The Girl who Speaks Bear couldn't be more magical if it tried. The snow and ice landscape, alongside a menagerie of talking animals, re-conjured echoes of Narnia for me and then took the magic further-to fiery volcanoes, a three-headed dragon, bears and long-forgotten curses. Throughout the main story, characters re-tell some of the most beautiful folktales and legends I have ever heard. They crackle with magic and imagination to the point where they are, undoubtedly, the best storytelling I have ever read. These short tales feed into Yanka's story perfectly and, very cleverly, allow us to find out about her past in a non-linear way. They also add to the mystery of the story. Which parts of these tales are true? How do they all connect together to reveal the full tale of Yanka's ancestry.
Yanka is not alone in her journey. Throughout the novel she is joined by an eclectic mix of both animal and human friends, all of which have their own strengths and struggles. The theme of 'being a herd' is prominent and I love how Sophie Anderson highlights how everyone, big or small, has something invaluable to contribute to a group or community. Community versus isolation is another recurring theme.
In summary, Sophie incorporates all the magical things we love- from flying ships to dragons to plucky princesses with icy, stardust arrows-and weaves them into a tale that is wholly unique, captivating and memorable. If you are looking to be transported into an ultimate fairytale, then this is the book for you!

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