by Barry Deutsch
First sentence: “Mirka liked her stepmother, Fruma, well enough.”
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This book, hands down, has the best tagline: “Yet another troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl.” How can you resist that?
Hereville is a town, the where is not really important, that is pretty much secluded from the outside world. Mirka lives there with her father, stepmother, and brothers and sisters (both blood and step). Life is pretty ordinary: she goes to school, her stepmother tries to teach her how to knit, her sisters worry about getting married, her brother deals with the neighborhood bullies. But, Mirka is a bit different than the others: she sneaks in non-Jewish books (how she gets them, I don’t know) which are banned, pouring over the ones about swordfighting and killing dragons, especially. Her dream? To get a sword and fight dragons.
This is not exactly feasible for an 11 year old Orthodox Jewish girl. That is, until Mirka finds a witch in the forest and has a run-in with the witch’s pig. In a brilliant bit of art and storytelling, Mirka goes through the trial, beating the pig. In the end, she’s rewarded by the witch with the location of a troll who has a sword. Even though, when she asks Fruma about how to defeat trolls, Mirka’s forbidden from seeking the troll, she goes, she confronts everything, and — no secret since it’s in the title — gets her sword. But there’s a cost; there always is.
You wouldn’t think it could be done, but the book deftly combines fantasy with a peek into the world of Orthodox Judaism. The book is littered with Yiddish words, and the section on Shabbos was poetic. It’s a good start to a series — hopefully it is a series, since I’m quite curious to know what Mirka’s going to do with her sword now she’s got it — with a unique premise. And you can’t get much better than that.