by Gregory Maguire
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Times are tough for Russian peasants. No longer serfs, but not better off, the people of the Russian countryside are starving. Crops and animals are dying and there is nothing to eat. Elena's father died years ago, one brother is fighting in the war, and another brother has been kidnapped. Elena alone must try and find food and medicine to keep her ailing mother alive. The village is empty except for the old "doctor"--who is really a veterinarian, an old grandmother, Elena and her sick mother, and a few women with babies.
Russia is unfair with its wealth. The poor get sick, starve and die. The rich eat succulent meats and creamy pastries and wear silk and satin finery and travel to visit the Tsar's palace. Someday Elena vows, she will go to the Tsar and tell him of her starving village and her sick mother. Surely, he will help. After all, he is the Tsar, right?
One day after a terrible storm, a beautiful train arrives in the village. The depot has long been closed. Even the elderly barely remember when trains used to stop there. Elena is curious. What caused this fine train to stop in her dusty village and who so rich could afford such luxury? The village has never seen such a train. The engineer explains that the bridge has been washed out ahead and will take time to repair. Until then, the train is stuck. Elena is captivated and soon discovers a girl her own age on board.
Through a twist of fate, Elena leaves on the train and Ekaterina finds herself left behind in Elena's squalid village. Elena realizes that the grown ups will mistake her for the rich heiress, so she decides to go with it. She wears Ekaterina's clothing and with the help of the governess, pretends to be the rich girl.
On her own adventure the real Ekaterina ventures away and into woods where magic abounds. It is here she meets the witch of lore: Baba Yaga.
Two girls switched by fate: one poor urchin off to the palace and one rich princess off to the woods. Who would you put your money on?
Egg & Spoon is well crafted and written with a keen eye for plot development. My main concern about this book is the cover. It's not what I would call eye-catching or eye-candy for young readers. This cover will not draw them in. The mere girth of the novel is another problem--tipping the scales at 475 pages, it is not a short read for middle grades. I have a feeling this book will win awards and be recognized for its craft, but it will not be popular with middle grade readers. For that, I am sorry. It's a great read that teachers and librarians are going to have to lead readers to.
Highly recommended grade 5-up. Good readers should not have a problem with this book. It is entertaining and well-written but lengthy.
FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.
This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf)