Egg & Spoon
by Gregory Maguire
Middle School Candlewick 479 pp.
9/14 978-0-7636-7220-1 $17.99
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-7582-0 $17.99
An imprisoned man tells his story, Scheherazade-like, in letters to the tsar. He begins with Elena, a young girl in the impoverished Russian countryside who is nursing her dying mother and who has witnessed her brother and all the village men conscripted by the tsar’s soldiers, among other catastrophes. The few remaining villagers are on the brink of starvation when a train unexpectedly stops on an unused stretch of track. Thus Elena meets privileged Ekaterina, and their lives collide and intertwine, sending the story in two directions: to a ball in St. Petersburg and deep into the forest to the witch Baba Yaga. Maguire savors every inch of his elaborate narrative, introducing tropes from Russian folktales and giving his characters plenty of play, especially the hardboiled Baba Yaga, who seems to exist outside of time (and is akin to Maguire’s other witches). The plot meanders, developing everywhere at once yet always intriguing. As he slowly draws his characters and threads together, Maguire loses some narrative tension and occasionally reveals himself as author through the voice of his paternalistic intrusive narrator. However, there is so much in his rich and consistently surprising prose that young readers will likely forgive him for being a grownup and enjoy the gift of his magical story.
From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.