My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was given Egg & Spoon as a gift from Riverbend books at the conclusion of the Young Adult Bookclub that I had participated in. Having not chosen the book and having never read a Gregory Maguire novel, I didn’t know what to anticipate. Therefore, the pure joy of this book was a delightful surprise.
Full of magic and mayhem, this book is part fairytale, part mythology, part prince and pauper tale and part grand quest. This mashup of style is a lot of fun and achieves success through the well-paced plot and the masterfully written prose that is funny, eloquent and often poignant.
The story begins in a poverty stricken Russian village called Miersk. In this village, misery is rife, the ruling noble family have abandoned the place, the majority of daughters were drowned in a tragic accident and the Tsar has conscripted the sons. Here lives Elana, who is all but starving and whose mother is dying. The monotony of this misery is interrupted one day when a rare train passing through on the way to St Petersberg is waylaid. Aboard this train is Ekaterina, or Cat, who could not be more different. She is pampered, educated and on her way to the social event of the year – a ball being held by the Tsar to find a bride for his godson, Prince Anton.
As you can guess, the girls meet and when the inevitable accident occurs, their places are switched leaving Elana hurtling toward St Petersberg, masquerading as the daughter of wealth and privilege. Cat, meanwhile, begins to make her way back to her own life by foot. Along the way, she is tricked from the train tracks into the domain of the famous witch, Baba Yaga and here begins the true adventure.
The highlight of this book for me was the character of the witch, Baba Yaga and her wit and whimsy. She swings from melodramatic, to hilarious to insightful and is always entertaining. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time – I am an immediate fan of Gregory Maguire and my dream to see Wicked, developed from the book he authored, is stronger than ever. I give it five stars and highly recommend it for Middle School readers, YA readers and adults!
Some favourite quotes:
Sooner or later you realize that everything you experience, especially something like being arrested, is never only about you. Your life story is really about how the hands of history caught you up, played with you, and you with them. History plays for keeps; individuals play for time. p.2
Being vulnerable to desolation also arises from being unable to picture a set of choices with which to change your lot in life. p.96
That’s the beginning of heroism. The decision to try. p.107
It was the most enchanting thing Elana had ever seen. Often this feels true about whatever we are seeing for the first time, whether it be a newly discovered best beloved or steep mountains. Or justice. Whatever that is. p.172
“Perhaps.” A safe word. Perhaps the safest. p. 176
“The hoity are very toity in this town,” said the witch. p. 269
You leave home, I have learned, counting the trip day by day. If you ever get to return, you count the trip miracle by miracle. p.446
Read another review of this book by the New York Times.