Friday, July 18, 2014

West of the Moon

Astri and her younger sister, Greta, live with their aunt, uncle, and cousins.  Their mother died when Greta was just a baby, and their father left for America.  He is saving money to bring his daughters over from Norway, but he's been gone for years.

When Svaalberd the goat man shows up looking to buy a girl work on his farm, Astri knows it won't be like the fairy tale.  In that story, when the bear shows up to take the girl, he leaves her family with riches, and takes her to a world with soft furnishings, full bellies, and kindness.  Svaalberd is a a goat man.  He smells like the goats he keeps, has a hump on his back, bad breath, and a foul temper.

As she suspected, Svaalberd is not a kind a master, and Astri takes the her chance when she sees it to try to escape.  Thus begins her quest to save her sister and get the two of them on a ship to America to find their father.

They will have to face many dangers and challenges along the way, but they will also find friends and uncover the secrets of the past.  Astri knows the traditional Norwegian folktales by heart, and she blends them into her own tale of survival.  But life is not a fairy tale, and as Astri realizes early in the story, no one is going to show up to save her by magical or mortal means.  If Astri wants to be saved, she will have to save herself.

This story was inspired by the diary of Margi Preus's great great grandmother.  Make sure to read the author's note at the end for more information about Preus's ancestor and Norwegian fairy tales.  It probably won't surprise you to learn that I loved this book.  The mix of fairy tales and reality is wonderful, and Astri's tale is dark and painful but also hopeful.  A great read!

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