Amulet Books, $16.95 hardcover, ISBN-10 1419708961, April 2014
In West of the Moon, award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Margi Preus expertly weaves original fiction with myth and folktale to tell the story of Astri, a young Norwegian girl desperate to join her father in America. After being separated from her sister and sold to a cruel goat farmer, Astri makes a daring escape. She quickly retrieves her little sister, and, armed with a troll treasure, a book of spells and curses, and a possibly magic hairbrush, they set off for America. With a mysterious companion in tow and the “malevolent goatman” in pursuit, the girls head over the Norwegian mountains, through field and forest, and in and out of folktales and dreams as they steadily make their way east of the sun and west of the moon.
You don’t get much more offbeat than this skillful piece of weird. Tough Astri gets sold off to a brutish goatherd, but she’s got her own share of toughness and maybe even a bit of cruelty, as well. Partly through wishful thinking and partly through ignorance, she tries to make her own journey fit into the framework of the fairy tale she’s grown up with, but real life keeps kicking her in the face. Quick-witted and used to looking after herself, Astri manages to keep herself and her sister a bare step ahead of the man who bought her, but the mysterious spinning girl (as in spins yarn, not as in spins in place) she finds in the goatherd’s shed may wind up her greatest regret.
Preus’s sharp, standout prose holds the story’s quirks together. While the cover looks more like a midgrade novel, at least to me, the story does contain hints at sexual abuse and has a sophistication more suited to teens. It’s definitely too old for the Newbery but may be one to put on Printz watch.
Recommend to: Fractured fairy tale fans, readers wanting something a bit different
To buy or not to buy:A solidly literary choice