I requested and received a free copy of this from the publishers in exchange for honest reviews. Opinions and views are all my own
The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson, illustrated by Kathrin Honesta
So, I liked Sophie Anderson’s first book The House With Chicken Legs, but I didn’t love it the way everyone else did. So I was keen to read this, but my expectations were firmly in check.
I absolutely love, LOVE, LOVED it.
I felt there was a greater depth here than in THWCL, though it retained the readability (is that even a word?!) of Sophie’s first book, as well as her distinctive style.
It was such a moreish read, and the fact that many of the chapters are a tale being told makes them much shorter than average MG chapters too and so perfect for those ‘just a bit more’ moments (and also perfect for readers who feel overwhelmed by long chapters/books).
These tales were one of the things I loved best about this book. Sophie Anderson’s passion for and knowledge of folk and fairytales really shines through in this book, even more so (if possible) than it did before!
The way it was told through stories within the story was simply magical. I really sank into the tales that were told and I thought the way they gradually helped to unravel the main tale was incredibly clever and so skilfully done.
I also found I got behind Yanka in a way I never really did with Marinka. And I really did get behind Yanka. I suspect this is because I felt more common ground with her – those feelings of not quite fitting in, of being a part of a group, but always slightly outside of it too, were all so familiar.
Whatever my reasons, she was a great main character and I loved how we saw her grow and change over the book, especially where she acknowledged past mistakes or errors of judgement (both her own and others’) and learned to move on, though not necessarily to forget. Complex feelings and themes were touched on with subtlety and perception.
Yanka’s ‘herd’ is wonderful too (Mousetrap especially!). A fantastic mix of creatures and personalities add humour, energy and a certain edge to the story, whilst also making the point that we each have our strengths even though it may not always seem like it, and that we don’t have to be the same to be together.
There is also a message of doing together what you would struggle to do alone; of asking for and/or accepting help when it’s offered, of not being too proud or self-conscious or worried to do so. This is something I really struggle with and I loved the way it was addressed – it didn’t make it seem easy to do, but gently suggested it was worth trying.
The setting is richly described, with close attention to detail and the depiction of life there really adding to it. I felt I was there. It was made even more immersive through those folk tales Yanka is told throughout the book – they give the place a history and I absolutely loved the idea of Anatoly’s map with a little detail added on each of his visits to represent a new story. I believe there will be a map in the finished version and I cannot wait to see it.
On that note, the illustrations are gorgeous and so fitting for the story. I was so so lucky to receive a hand-printed proof with previews of the interior art and they’re just as rich and atmospheric as you could want.
This is going to be a truly stunning book.
Full of traditional folkloric magic, with humour and the increasing tension, danger and drama of Yanka’s journey keeping it fresh and exciting for modern readers, this is one of my stand out books if the year so far.