Vassa in the Night – Sarah Porter (Review)

Title: Vassa in the Night
Author: Sarah Porter
Publisher: Tor Teen, 2016
Genre: YA Fairy Tale Retellings, YA Fantasy, YA Magical Realism

This review can be found on my BlogTeacherofYA’s Tumblr, or my Goodreads page

 My Review:

I was lured in by the beautiful cover…I’ll admit it. I’m a coverwhore. I’m pathetic.


Now, I’m not saying the book was bad. No. Not gonna say that.

The book…was confusing. But I guess that’s magical realism for you, right? Took me three days to come to a conclusion about this book. I had to figure out a way to feel about what I just read. Parts of it were very cool; parts of it were gross. Parts of the book had me lost…

The best way to describe it: The Emperor had no clothes. We all just thought he did. Do you know what I’m trying to say? Well, maybe it’s best if I go right into the description and you might understand what I’m trying to say.

Vassa lives with two sisters from mixed parentage. She carries a little wooden doll, Erg (the doll chose her own name and that’s what she came up with) around with her. Erg is always hungry and is a kleptomaniac. The sisters blame Vassa for the missing items: Stephanie gets mad when Vassa denies it, and Chelsea thinks it’s a cry for help. One night, after her locket goes missing, Stephanie gets really angry at Vassa. She decides to make it seem like the light bulbs all went out and they need to buy more. And she expects Vassa to go buy some.

Now, at this point in the story, we are told that nights have been getting longer. Everyone can feel it, but the sun still comes up every morning, so there’s really nothing anyone can do but remark on it. There’s a prologue that explains it, but I’m not going to spoil the whole book for you. Let’s just say night becomes personified…which is kinda cool.


So Vassa has to get light bulbs, and the only store open in Brooklyn last midnight is a creepy dancing store (yes, a dancing store) called BY’s, owned by an old crone named Babs Yaga (This reminds me of the original fairy tale of Baba Yaga). When Vassa leaves, Chelse tries to talk her out of going…because everyone that goes in to the store only comes out as a head on a pike. Supposedly shoplifters, the customers are on display for all those who dare venture in to this IN-convenience store…that dances…on chicken legs. I was already confused by now.

So Vassa goes in…pissed that her sister Stephanie (all us Stephanies get back raps) would purposely send her into a dangerous situation. She sings the song that gets the store to let her in, and minutes later she’s among the aisles of BY’s. Severed hands attempt to tuck products into her pocket, but she gets them out before Babs can see: Vassa makes a case that she can’t be considered a shoplifter if the stolen items are still in her hand. Babes considers this and tells Vassa she won’t cut her head off, but she must work in the store for three nights…and she can’t go home.

These three nights will be the most challenging nights of her life: she notices that a strange motorcyclist circles the lot over and over, forever trapped. Erg lets Vassa know that there’s more to the store than meets the eye (really? The dancing chicken-legged store and the heads on pikes didn’t give that away?), and that Vassa is the only one that can set things right. But she’s set up for failure from the beginning…what is really going on a BY’s? And why does Babs keep telling Vassa she’s only half a person?

A beautiful depiction of the swans in the story by Christopher Gibbs

Is It Clasroom-Appropriate?

I guess so. If you want to focus on magical realism, there is a case to be made for this book. Conveniently, Tor Teen included a study guide along with the book for classroom use at the end of the book. 

Some examples from the back of the book (I saved them in case I ever decide to use this book for teaching purposes…this is only a couple examples…some are spoilery so I didn’t want to include them, and there were A LOT:

Research and Writing Activities

WRITE: Vassa’s journey begins when leaves home to buy lightbulbs at BY’s. In the character of Chelsea or Stephanie, write a journal entry describing your feelings immediately after Vassa has left the house, noting whether you think Vassa is acting naïvely or intelligently and if/ how you feel a sense of responsibility for her departure.

DIAGRAM: The author creates an almost telescopic setting for her novel, beginning with Night, narrowing to Brooklyn, then closer in to a neighborhood, and ultimately into dreams and memories. Create a diagram of the most important settings in the story and annotate each point with key events that take place in that setting. What was the most surprising or revealing discovery you made as you completed your diagram?

MIXED MEDIA: Vassa’s half-and stepsister are distracted by a BY’s television advertisement. Using clues from the story, and your imagination, make a video recreation of the advertisement to share with friends or classmates.

RESEARCH AND CREATE: Who is Baba Yaga? Is she kind or cruel? Is she one person or three? Why does she live in such a strange house?
Go to the library or online to research answers to the questions. In the character of Baba Yaga (in first person), write a poem, song lyrics, dramatic monologue or other theatrical piece beginning with the words, “I am.”  

WRITE: Has reading Vassa in the Night changed your perspective on how your family’s past impacts your sense of self? Write an opinion piece, using an interpretation of the novel as your basis for exploring the reasons it is good to know your family history and ways to keep this knowledge in perspective as you develop your own personal identity. LIST: List at least eight events, characters, or images found in both the traditional Vassilissa tale and the novel. (If desired, also read other Russian folktales, particularly “The Firebird,” to find other shared matter.) For each list entry, note how the author reinterprets the notion for a contemporary reader and setting. (Note: This exercise is best done after completing “Before Reading” activity #3.) 

As I said, just a couple examples, which I appreciate that they included.

Age Range:

Lexile.com suggests 13-18, and I think that’s a pretty good estimate. I don’t know if younger students will understand all the underlying “philosophical” questions posed in the book, and though there’s no swearing or sex, there is a lot of violence. So be prepared for that. The actual Lexile score is 840L, which is high (as I said, probably because of the “deeper meanings” involved), but there’s no HL, so I guess Lexile doesn’t consider the gore to be mature subject matter. I probably would think older or advanced readers best for this book, as even I struggled with it.

End Result:

Ugh. Do you see what I mean yet about my statement, “The Emperor has no clothes?” Let me elaborate here…

So I feel that Porter thought she was writing a magical book with deep themes. Ok, I’ll give her that. It’s got magic, and there’s some stuff at the end that makes an impact on the reader involving Vassa and her mom. Great. But I also think this is one of those scenarios where the book is overly pretentious. It acts like it is better than it is. Maybe it’s the magical realism, though I think many authors pull that off well. Remember, the Emperor was apparently wearing rich robes and just no one could see them…until a little boy pointed out that the Emperor was really just buck naked.

So I mean…you might read this and think, “OMG, this is brilliant! Wow!” I read it as, “OMG, wtf is going on? Why…how…what…huh?” So my final decision is to give Vassa in the Night ★★★☆☆. I kept reading, but I just didn’t get it. I don’t see the clothes. Maybe you will…?


How did y’all feel about Vassa in the Night? Is Porter a genius, or just a weirdo with poetic intentions? Tiny people parties, bleeding swans, flying eyeballs…an acid trip gone bad? Or utter brilliance, and Porter is a misunderstood genius? Feel free to weigh in! 🤔

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89 thoughts on “Vassa in the Night – Sarah Porter (Review)

  1. I’ve been waiting to read another review that expressed some of my issues with this book. The emperor has no clothes is so spot on and had me laughing from the start. Great way to describe this book, Stephanie! I loved reading your review. I couldn’t stand this book at all. I had so many issues with it. I really love what you did here with your review. 👍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!! That means a lot.
      It was so hard to evaluate! I remember your review before I read the book, and then I saw Beth’s, and I thought I would love it.
      I’m glad you liked the analogy! I was afraid no one would know what I was trying to say! 😉😂👍
      Thank goodness you get it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I knew exactly what you meant. I think the people who read the book will definitely get it even if they loved it. I know Beth also noted some confusion in her review as did other bloggers. It’s a very confusing story. I honestly had no idea what I was reading or why I was reading it.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Yeah, it is. I get being “artsy” or whatev…but I think this went a little too far into the “Wtf?” category vs artsy category: I was waiting for something to make sense. I don’t want to give spoilers for other people, but wth were people of interest, or whatever they called them? And what was the point? Why did you know who become a DOG? That was weird and mentioned for no coherent reason!
      The more I think about it, the more confused I get.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know: I’ve made a ton of mistakes in my comments! Don’t worry, we all do it! But I at least knew what you mean anyway…
        It’s a gorgeous book…it will probably go down as one of those books with a beautiful cover but a sucky plot. It will be on book lists forever, lol! 😂
        Hey, I say give it a go…you got it anyway. You’ll know whether the book is for you by the time she goes into BY’s. That’s when I started to go, “Wtf?” So I hope you check it out at least…reading time is precious but I know Beth loved it, so to each their own.
        I just always finish books so I can help others when they’re on the fence about DNFing or not.
        Hey, I checked out Stealing Snow from the library and am giving it a go after all the horrible reviews! I know reading time is precious but I was dying to read it so I have to now!
        Good luck whatever you decide. Let me know if you ever do read it what you think…I’m dying to know how other ppl felt about this one.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I do want to give it a try. What to I have to lose? I don’t like, I don’t like it. But I’ll never know right unless I read it. There are tons of books people wrote negative reviews for that I loved. That’s the thing, they are reviews and people’s opinions. Each person is different. I probably won’t pick it up until after Christmas. I’m stuck under a stack of review books but I’ll for sure post a review.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Dying to see what you think. Glad you’ll be trying it for yourself! That’s exactly why I read it!
        I know all about the stack of review books…I am working on one now, and another author is having a blog tour of her book, so I have to get that read, too! All that and my awesome library books are due! What is a bibliophile to do?!?

        Like

  2. I love your review. This is a book I’ve been keeping my eye on because the cover wants to be on my bookshelf. I read a sample of it, and just from the few chapters I read came to the same conclusions you did. I pick it up every time I go to the bookstore, but hopefully your review will help keep it out of my hands. Life is too short to read “meh” books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! It is.
      I’m glad I can help keep you away from the meh. Sad thing is, it’s too beautiful to be bad. 😫 Why??
      I’m reading Stealing Snow and I was psyched about that one, too…but the writing so far isn’t very good. So I’m hoping it’ll change.
      I take these book bullets for you guys!! 😂🔫

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Of course it is, I am so bummed that it’s different, I received mine in a Book Box this month so I was hoping for so much amazingness! Definitely low on the TBR now, and what a large TBR it is too!

        I’m so glad to be joining the coverwhore club!!! So much so, I just posted another Cover War Post! Because lets be honest, I was feeling in the mood for it after your post! Yay judging covers 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved your cover wars post today…sometimes I love the US covers better, and sometimes the UK ones…but oftentimes I prefer the UK ones. Funny, isn’t it?
      Your membership card for the “Neverending TBR” club is in the mail, too! 😂😉

      Like

      1. I know right, I feel like we all like something we can’t have… But then again my B&N haul earlier in the year, I just said stuff it and ordered 25 books from America!!! Haha bank account didn’t appreciate it, but I regret nothing!

        OOO Thank you, I look forward to joining the club, and contributing to the countless books in everyone’s TBR’s!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Oh, I didn’t know you weren’t in the US! That must be frustrating but at least you started with a nice haul!
      Yep, remember: you are now officially a coverwhore AND a never ending TBR member! Now we just need to recruit. And when you buy 25 books from B & N, own it! Well, you just did, so awesome! 🙌

      Like

      1. Not in the US at all haha! I’m an Aussie, and what’s scary is it was actually cheaper to order 25 books from the States and get them shipped to Australia for $174 shipping than to buy the books in Hardcover here!!!

        I am officially in all the clubs and owning it for sure!!! Definitely time to recruit!

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Lol, good to gave an active recruiting member! 😂
      How expensive is it to buy books from AUS? You said buying them here and paying shipping is cheaper than buying them there? Why? Is it that VAT tax you guys have?

      Like

      1. It’s like $12-18 to buy a paperback here, an then over $20 for hard covers… Not sure why it’s so expensive… and then we pay tax on top soooo… yeah super expensive. Not sure why… maybe everyone just hates us Aussies hahaha

        Liked by 1 person

    4. I don’t blame you then! That’s INSANE! Wow!
      I would do the very same thing. What a shame.
      I love you Aussies! I didn’t know many until I started blogging. And then I became friends with one, and their friends were Aussies, and now almost all my friends are! Seriously, I have a large percentage of Aussie friends…then some in the UK. So I feel for you. If I can ever help, let me know. 😘
      One trick to my ebooks cheaper is to register a US address (google US address generator) and put it up on alternate addresses on Amazon.au, and then you’ll be able to buy books from Amazon,com without the VAT tax! I did it when I wanted to buy an Australian book, and it worked perfectly! Then I switched it back to my home address, so I could go back to ordering on Amazon.com. (I did a AUS address generator and did the reverse to get my book that wasn’t out yet here but was out over there). I got the idea from google as well. Hope that helps, too!

      Like

  3. Christy Luis

    It sounds unique, to say the least! Haha. I really enjoyed the Vassalissa the Beautiful fairy tale–it’s totally creepy and atmospheric!–so I may give this book a try, at some point. We shall see…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great review Stephanie. I’m sorry you found this book a little confusing, I loved Vassa in the Night but there were still times when I found it really confusing as well. I loved the way you described it as the Emperor’s New Clothes as well, kind of a different way of looking at the book but as soon as you mentioned it I just thought ‘yes, that makes complete sense’.
    I love magical realism books, is Vassa the first one from that genre you read. If it was I’d highly recommend picking up others. As much as I enjoyed this book there are better ones out there! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes this is my first real magical realism book. I’ve read some with a touch here or there, but not this much!
      I plan on reading the Ava Lavender book, and the Moon Was Ours one, too! What do you recommend for a newbie to the genre?
      And I was sad going into the review bc our tastes are so similar, but there WERE parts I liked. I liked the swans. I liked Zinaida.
      I’m glad you liked the reference because it came out in a convo on Twitter with someone and it just kind of stuck in my mind after that! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah I think this one was on the extreme end of magical realism, When the Moon was Ours is an amazing book, and one of my favourites so I hope you enjoy that one, and I haven’t read Ava Lavender but if you enjoy it I may have to add it to my to-read list as well! 😀
        I’d also recommend Bone Gap. It was the first magical realism book I read and to this day remains one of my favourites.
        Great reference, and yeah I loved reading about the swans as well. I think it is great that even though this was a confusing book there was still parts of it you enjoyed, that’s the important thing! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

    2. That’s true…it did have can’t-put-it-downness! I’ll have to look into Bone Gap. Also, I feel like I could handle magical realism on a smaller scale. Like a couple of magical things. I wasn’t weirded out by Erg, because that was cool. A magical doll. But the dad wanting to become a dog? What was THAT about? See, I feel that I might’ve liked it more if some stuff had been let out and some stuff had been expanded upon. You know what I’m sayin? 🤔

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I feel if you can handle magical realism on a smaller scale than Vassa then Bone Gap would be a brilliant book to pick up, the magic isn’t as strange but it’s still there if you look closely enough. I loved Erg but yeah I agree the whole dad turning into a dog thing was incredibly weird, I didn’t understand that part at all, like how?

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I get what you mean but I think in a way that’s probably how it felt for Vassa, one day her father just became a dog and that was the last she ever heard about it and from him. Still very weird though.
        That’s all right, I really hope you enjoy that one Stephanie! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s how I read it, too. From Overdrive. I had to wait a long time.
      I think the curiosity is what is driving the book sales and its overall hype. Same apparently with Stealing Snow, and I’m working on that now, too. Though I must say, the writing in that one is falling flat for me! Oh, woe is me, that beautiful books can be so lackluster! 😂😂😂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, me too! The one I’m reading for an author, an indie book called The Death Thieves, is pretty good! I’m always surprised when an indie book is better than the popular ones, you know?

        Like

  5. I’ve heard the same thing time and time again about Vassa being really confusing at times, which has me worried for when I eventually read it. It sucks that it ended up missing the mark for you. Weirdly enough when you mentioned Baba Yaga I automatically thought of the movie Spirited Away and a quick google search told me that Yubaba, the evil witch from Spirited Away, is also based off of Baba. And after having read so many reviews for Vassa I’m starting to see the similarities. I love Spirited Away so I have a bit more hope that I might enjoy this. Though maybe it’s something that would have translated better as a movie? Also, I love how you used The Emperor’s New Clothes to explains this. I remember that story haha. Great review! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you…I couldn’t think of any other way to describe it, lol!
      I ❤️ Spirited Away! When I was younger, I went to the theater with my Japanese boyfriend…I had never heard of Miyazaki and his movies before that…now I’ve seen most of them. You’re right: it might have translated better as film. Interesting tidbit about the witch being based on Baba Yaga in that, too!
      I swear I read the fairy tale at some point…but I just can’t seem to remember it! I think I might have to revisit it!
      You may love it…there must be a reason so much hype surrounds it. That’s why I read it. If you give it a shot, I’m dying to know what you think!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome!
        That’s awesome that you got to see it in theaters. Miyazaki’s films are fantastic, aren’t they? I want to marathon all of his movies soon, especially Spirited Away.
        I think I have too but can’t remember either. When I first read the synopsis for Vassa something seemed so familiar about it.
        I plan on it. It’s not as high as it once was on my TBR but I plan on getting to it sometime next year. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I wish you and I could do a Miyazaki marathon! (Hmm, that rolls right off the tongue)
        Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (not sure if I spelled that one right…), Castle In The Sky…and there are some newer ones I haven’t seen!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I wish we could too! I was actually going to rent a few on Amazon Prime the other day but none of them are on there. 😢
        I’ve actually not seen a lot of his older movies. I’ve always had a tough time finding DVDs of them.
        Also, Miyazaki Marathon. I love it! 😂

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Netflix doesn’t have them?? Ow, that hurts!! I guess the only way to watch them then is to buy them…I know they have them at Best Buy, and Amazon, too. There’s a video store out here called Family Video that I’m sure has them to rent, but who uses video stores anymore? 🤔😂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know right? And I checked VUDU and they aren’t on there either. They must not have his films in digital format yet. Booo. I’ll probably end up buying a few from Amazon. 😂 I don’t even think we have any videos stores around here anymore.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: The Get To Know Me Tag!! – Bloggin' & Writing

  7. LOOL omg I love this review hahaha I can picture your confusion in my head it was so funny! WEll thanks for the review too I don’t have to read this book anymore..I’m a coverwhore too HHIH – Trang

    Like

  8. I’ve had this ARC for so long and still haven’t read it 🙈 I think I’m going to have similiar thoughts as you when I ultimately get to it because I did read about 1/4 of it and it wasn’t really holding my attention. That artwork of the swans you shared is gorgeous. Great review!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t it? It came up under a Google search and I wanted to use it, but had to give credit where credit is due. It’s amazing. I wish I could create something like that!
      The only reason I kept reading wS to see if there was rhyme or reason behind the hype. It’s a very weird book.
      Thank you! 😘

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great review! I’ve been meaning to read this for a while. Have heard strange things about the novel that you seem to touch on too, which is why I have been so hesitant to pick it up. If I ever feel in the mood for something strange and poetic, I might give this a go 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I like the start of the review.. haha.. your normal excitement is like the candle slowly dying.. haha.. Great review though! I don’t feel bad for getting the rejection on this book. The cover is eye catching. I will not be in a hurry to read this book then 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love it, “like a candle slowly dying!” That’s great, Jas! You should be a writer! That’s EXACTLY how I felt!
      Yeah, don’t you feel bad about the denial for this one…it is so not worth your time. If you do read it, please let me know what you think!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I got what you meant, lol! It happens to me all the time on comments, too! We type faster than our hands can handle it!!
        Yes, I’m glad everyone liked the comparison bc that’s EXACTLY how I felt this book was: something that wasn’t there when people thought something was, and thought it was brilliant.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I find magical realism confusing in general, I have to admit. Some authors do it well, and some authors seem to use the genre to get away with being hand-wavy and saying things that make no sense.

    I was really looking forward to this one until reviews began coming out. I’ve seen a couple people who loved it, but a lot of bloggers I trust said they were just baffled by the whole thing. I put it on my Christmas list for my family months ago though (my mother likes to have half the year to choose gifts…), so it’s possible I’ll end up with a copy anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love how you describe it: hand-wavy and making no sense! That’s exactly what I was trying to say about this book! And you see what I mean.
      I’m sorry if you end up getting it for Christmas…I read the real Baba Yaga story the other day, courtesy of Christina’s link in the comments, and I now understand some of the weird things in the story…however, people have written retellings for years and have still managed to make them not so out there.
      Beautiful cover, strange as hell book. I know Porter was going for brilliance, but to me it fell extremely flat. 😫

      Like

  12. I keep seeing this book EVERYWHERE and that’s making me want to check it out, but the reviews I’ve seen are all a bit like “…eh?” It sounds like one of those stories where all the way through you’re just thinking “wait what?” but just have to go along with it. I think it’d be either a love/hate thing for me, but for now I think I’m going to give it a miss.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely understand that…it’s one of those books that IS a love hate thing. I couldn’t rate it less than three because it kept my interest, and maybe if I was familiar with the Vasilisa story before hand I might have liked it more, but it was just too OUT THERE for me. Just so weird. The people that love it really love it, and the people that don’t really don’t. I can’t say I hated it, but I think if certain parts had been expanded upon, and others cut out, it would have made for a more pleasurable reading experience for me!
      I just finished Stealing Snow and will be posting a review on that…once again another problem book, but this time for different reasons. I will admit that Porter is a good writer…but maybe poetry may be more her thing? I just don’t know what to say in its defense! 🤔
      Sorry about the long reply, but I hate to have people not want to read something bc of my review, but then again I really feel I’m saving you some lost reading time on this one! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m the same though so I get what you mean! When someone says they don’t want to read the book because of my review, I feel so bad. But that’s what reviews are for, so try not to feel too bad 🙂 it was unlikely I’d have read it anyway – your review just solidified that choice for me since I’m such an indecisive person! I’ll save my money for an anticipated release aha 😆

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Great review! I haven’t read this one yet, but I think you illustrated perfectly what about the book confused you – too many books out there “try too hard” (for lack of a better term) and it seems like this one’s one of them. So unfortunate, though; I’ve wanted to read it forever because of the folk tale retelling element but it seems like it’ll just be a waste of time. ☹️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes, I feel this one definitely tried too hard. It’s sad too, because it could’ve been good: the Baba Yaga premise is new. But no, it was so bizarre, and not in a cool, magical realism way.
      I love folk tale/fairy tale retellings so it killed me. I can already imagine an awesome book look for it from you: black and red and white go so good together. If you do end up reading it, I’m dying to know what you think. But I believe if you skip it, you’re not missing out on anything. 😘

      Like

      1. Yeah, it’s not a fairytale we’ve had a retelling for before this, I believe. :/

        Haha, thank you! I’ll see if that’s a thing I can do – I worry sometimes that my looks end up a bit stale because I keep recycling the same styles over and over again… 😛

        Liked by 1 person

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