The Girl who Speaks Bear

The Girl Who Speaks Bear was written by Sophie Anderson and first published in 2019. It is a fantasy story that focuses on a young girl who is searching for a way to break a strange curse. Although the novel has ties to The House with Chicken Legs (2018), it does still stand alone and can be thoroughly enjoyed if you haven’t read Anderson’s previous book.

Yanka has never really felt as though she belongs in the village. She was found in the woods by her Mamochka when she was a toddler and the other children are not always kind to her. Due to the fact that she is so big and strong, they have started to call her “Yanka the Bear” and Yanka knows that they laugh behind her back. Yet she also knows that she is not like them. Sometimes, Yanka feels the pull of the forest and she does not know why.

One morning, Yanka wakes up to find that she has grown furry bear legs. Although Mamochka is convinced that it some kind of strange infection, Yanka knows that this is not true. She has grown up listening to stories about a family who were cursed to become bears, and now knows that the same thing is happening to her. To find a way to lift the curse, she knows that she must seek out the legendary Bear Tsarina and ask for her assistance.

Yet the forest is dangerous, even with the protection of Mousetrap the house weasel – the self-proclaimed fiercest hunter. Yanka must face hungry wolves, witches, and even a fire dragon if she wants to find a way to restore herself. Even then, Yanka is not certain that it will make her truly happy. The forest is calling to her louder than ever before. Perhaps Yanka would be better off as a bear…

I must admit that I was not sure about this novel. While I did enjoy reading The House with Chicken Legs, I did not think that the blurb of this novel really made it sound that exciting. In fact, it just served to make the novel sound incredibly generic. However, I am really glad that I decided to give The Girl who Speaks Bear a try. It is certainly proof that you should never judge a book by its cover!

The Girl who Speaks Bear was simply breath-taking. It formed a gorgeous adventure story that was just filled to the brim with magic. The plot was fast to find its feet, with Yanka growing bear legs and setting off on her dangerous adventure within the first 100 pages. As Yanka and Mousetrap venture deeper into the forest, they soon begin to encounter the many different creatures that live there and learn their stories.

Every creature that Yanka encounters, from lone wolf Ivan the Grey to Smey the Fire Dragon, has a story to tell. For me, this was one of the most memorable parts of the story. The Girl who Speaks Bear reads like a Russian faerie tale, as the narrative occasionally flips to third person as Yanka listens to each of the stories. Although all of these stories feel like tall-tales, the reader soon starts to see that each of them includes a kernel of truth that leads them to Yanka’s origins.

Yet, a majority of the novel is beautifully written in Yanka’s voice, allowing her to put words to the things that she encounters and address the conflicted emotions that she feels towards herself. The plot of The Girl who Speaks Bear is exhilarating as Yanka encounters all manner of creatures, ranging from the dangerous to the magical. While this adventure is gorgeous in its own right, it also carried a powerful deeper message. It is a tale about the importance of loving yourself and having the support of your family.

As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that this is not necessarily your birth family. Yanka’s “herd” progressively grows as the novel progresses and includes adoptive parents, friends, and even woodland creatures. Although this echoes some of the themes that were central to The House with Chicken Legs, this novel felt a lot gentler. While the previous book also explored the concepts of destiny and coping with loss, The Girl who Speaks Bear did not address such dark things and therefore was a very comfortable read.

The Girl who Speaks Bear ended on the perfect note, nicely wrapping up Yanka’s adventures as she comes to accept who she wants to be. This completely resolves her inner conflict about whether or not she would rather be a human or a bear in a very satisfying way. Despite the mild peril that characterised the early chapters, the ending is truly heart-warming and bound to bring a smile to the face of any young reader.

In terms of characterisation, The Girl who Speaks Bear is also wonderfully strong. Yanka is a powerful protagonist who gains a great deal of growth over the course of the story. While she initially feels like a bit of an outcast, she slowly finds her strength and learns to accept the things about herself that she cannot change. Although you can really feel Yanka’s confusion, she never feels overly selfish or annoying, and the choices that she makes over the course of the story always feel very natural (even when they turn out to be incorrect).

The supporting cast are also vivid and memorable, consisting of both Yanka’s human and animal allies. All animals in the novel are able to communicate with Yanka and display wonderfully different personalities, ranging from Mousetrap the proud hunter to Yuri the skittish baby elk. The Yaga also play a large role in this story, as they did in The House with Chicken Legs, and their sentient homes are still just as charming as ever.

Anyhow, I think that about covers everything. The Girl who Speaks Bear is a beautifully written novel, filled with magic and adventure. I ultimately enjoyed it even more than I did The House with Chicken Legs, and it’s certainly one that I would recommend to all fans of middle grade fantasy stories.

The Girl who Speaks Bear can be purchased as a Paperback and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. literarylizaks
    Feb 03, 2020 @ 09:01:23

    Great review. This book sounds beautiful.

    Reply

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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