Published January 5th 2016 by Disney-Hyperion
Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Mary Hayes can’t stand her orphanage for another night. But when an attempted escape through the stove pipe doesn’t go quite as well as she’d hoped, Mary fears she’ll be stuck in the Buffalo Asylum for Young Ladies forever.
The very next day, a mysterious woman named Madame Z appears at the orphanage requesting to adopt Mary, and the matron’s all too happy to get the girl off her hands. Soon, Mary is fed a hearty meal, dressed in a clean, new nightgown and shown to a soft bed with blankets piled high. She can hardly believe she isn’t dreaming!
But when Mary begins to explore the strange nearby town with the help of her new friend, Jacob, she learns a terrifying secret about Madame Z’s true identity. If Mary’s not careful, her new home might just turn into a nightmare.
Award-winning author Katherine Marsh draws from Russian fairytales in this darkly funny middle-grade fantasy novel
My Review: This book is an imaginative use of a classic Russian character, Baba Yaga. It is a combination of fantasy, supernatural and folklore using the theme of orphan who is unwanted, finally finds a family and earns their love. It also develops the theme of young children who are loners, finally finding a friend and being willing to do whatever they need to help them.
The book begins with Mary trying to escape the orphanage. Her mother and brother died in a fire while Mary, who had snuck out to the fire escape to read a book her brother had given he, survived. She was moved to an orphanage which she dislikes very much. The woman running it is mean, cheap and does not like Mary. When Mary finally escapes the building using the chimney, she is trapped by a whirlwind who wakes Mrs. Boots. Mary is dragged back inside, miserable. The next day, an old woman arrives at the orphanage and wants to adopt Mary. Mrs. Z, a Russian lady, promises to feed and take care of Mary. Mary happily leaves the orphanage with nothing but her book and the clothes on her back. Mary’s new home is located at the edge of a town called Iris. It is a town full of charlatans who perform “magic” for tourists. Madame Z tells Mary to steer clear of them or she will be taken, but she meets and develops a friendship with a young boy named Jacob. Madame Z on the other hand, appears to have real magic. She has a house that is alive, a talking cat, a flying fire-breathing horse and a flying mortal and pestle .Mary and Madame Z have a comfortable relationship, but something seems to be wrong. With the help of her new friend Jacob, they uncover the truth and have to save not only Baba Yaga/Madame Z, but the town and woods around the town.
I had a few minor issues with this book. The first is that the book starts off strong, but then starts to drag a bit. DO NOT stop, because the ending is fantastic. I am also not sure about the title. Yes there is a door by the staircase, but it is really not the main point of the story and was rather misleading. Having said that, the way the author developed the relationships between the characters was exceptional. There was nothing force, but it was allowed to develop naturally. The villian was not unveiled until near the end and it was quite exciting. Overall a good read, but remember if it gets slow, do not give it. A great Middle Grades book that should be in all school and classroom libraries. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book via Netgalley.