By Sophie Anderson
If I was to be looking for a career change and was offered the role of ‘Gatekeeper to the Afterlife’ and furthermore, was then told I could live rent free in a house that moved anywhere I wanted it to on giant chicken legs, I’d give the prospect some serious thought…
This is a great story about a girl called Marinka who is trying to find the place in which she belongs (which is difficult when your home can just get up in the middle of the night and plonk you down in the middle of the Russian Steppes). With no mother or father, she is in the care of her grandmother (!) and a Jackdaw called Jack. Together they care for the dead before they make their final journey to the afterlife.
It’s an adventure story where the search is for belonging, friendship and family. There are times in the story where I wanted to shake her and tell her she’s got a duty to fulfil. Marinka is frustratingly wilful at times befriending the wrong people and being blummin’ neglectful to the house and Jack and Benji the lamb. But in the end, the narrative is more complex than that and the mistakes and dangers, ultimately lead to a realisation of sorts…
There are some beautifully touching moments of realisation for Marinka where she learns she has to accept sadness and loss but that she can take action to change her life. It’s a great ending. It reaffirms that sometimes life does throw things at you that you can’t change, but you can take action to make the best of what you have.
For Marinka, a house on chicken legs, a jackdaw and new friendships are more than enough to give her satisfaction – for now…
By Mr Garley
The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson
Marinka lives in a house with chicken legs. That idea alone was enough to entice me into reading this wonderful book!
Marinka lives with her Grandmother, Baba Yaga, who she helps to guide the spirits of the dead from this world into the next. (The idea of Baba Yaga originates from traditional Slavic folklore.) She knows that she is expected to become the next guide but fights against her destiny. All she wants is a normal life, friends and the chance to decide her own future.Her efforts to shape her own life are hindered by her house’s habit of getting up and wandering off to a new place without a moment’s notice.
This is a story of love and loss, friendship and responsibility and of finding where you belong in the world. Marinka is a melting pot of emotions – she swings from anger to fear, from joy to regret, but her vulnerability is always the current running through it all.
I absolutely love her developing relationship with her house. She is neglectful and downright rude towards it, to the point where I was seriously worried about its wellbeing (I was rooting for the house and almost shouting out loud at Marinka to get a grip!), but the house shows remarkable patience and forgiveness towards Marinka and a bond slowly forms.
I like the fact the ending isn’t a ‘perfect fairy tale ending’. Marinka must learn that loss and sadness are an unavoidable part of life, that some things you just cannot change but have to deal with and accept. She also learns however, that she can adapt how she lives her life to make the best of what she has and to enjoy it for what it is.
The language used in this book is just beautiful and created vivid pictures in my head of a gothic, (almost Tim Burton-esque) landscape as I read it. The little sketches were gorgeous and subtle and didn’t detract from the pictures I had already created in my imagination. I have so many lines from the book still stuck in my mind…
‘…the morning is always wiser than the evening…’
‘…so my wishes are as hollow as the skulls of the fence…’
‘…your house came and got me…’
Quite simply, I just loved this book.
Reviewed by: Mrs Godfrey
More information about the myth of Baba Yaga can be found here.
The writer Sophie Anderson’s website can be found here.
Sophie’s twitter feed: @sophieinspace