I love the fairy tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." I have two picture book versions (PJ Lynch and Mercer Mayer), and two novel adaptations of it (East by Edith Pattou and Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George), all of which I love. When I heard last year that Sarah Beth Durst's next novel would be an adaptation of this tale, I admit there was a teeny tiny instant in which I thought, another one, and wondered why, and how it might distinguish itself from the others. Then I read the description of it . . .
Then, on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie comes face-to-face with a polar bear who speaks to her. He tells her that her mother is alive, imprisoned at the ends of the earth. And he can bring her back -- if Cassie will agree to be his bride.
That is the beginning of Cassie's own real-life fairy tale, one that sends her on an unbelievable journey across the brutal Arctic, through the Canadian boreal forest, and on the back of the North Wind to the land east of the sun and west of the moon. Before it is over, the world she knows will be swept away, and everything she holds dear will be taken from her -- until she discovers the true meaning of love and family in the magical realm of Ice.
. . . and I was sold and ready to read it. Of course, I had to wait for it to come out! Which it did a few days ago. And I read it at once. And it is awesome.
If you know the fairy tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" you know it's kind of "Beauty and the Beast" with a polar bear as beast and an epic journey that the heroine must go on to rescue him after her own broken promise condemns him to marry the troll princess beyond the ends of the earth. Both the previous adaptations I'd read hew pretty closely to the tale and do so beautifully. Durst does something else altogether. She bring the story into the modern world of an Arctic research station and makes the heroine a scientist-in-training. The bear is no mere enchanted prince, a la Beast, but something much more interesting -- I'm not sure if this is purely Durst's own imaginative invention or if it's inspired by Inupiak folklore, but either way it was a surprise and added a whole new dimension to the story, not to mention a deep poignancy. I won't spoil what the twist is, I'll just say the characters aren't victims of troll caprice, locked in a curse, but are busy doing mystical work that has a vital place in the cycle of life, and it's cool.
Her take on trolls, too, is very different from the traditional tale, and has a great pay-off. I'm not spoiling anything to say that the heroine in this version does not save her lover by doing laundry, as in the original tale.
Sarah Beth Durst has folded an amazing amount of research on the frozen Northern world into this tale, to the point that I emailed to ask her (jokingly), if she had been raised on an Arctic research station. The level of detail into the environment, the mixture of science and fantasy, is absolutely to my taste.
Yeah, and the romance, of course. Like the rest of the tale, it's not standard-issue. Years ago I saw the Disney "Beauty and the Beast" in the theaters, and what I mostly remember about it is that a very young child burst into tears at the end when the lovable beast turned into a dumb handsome prince. What happened to Beast??? Durst doesn't do the usual thing, and the identity of the Polar Bear King is nuanced and unusual, and it works.
I met Sarah close to three years ago at the SCBWI conference in New York when we were both awaiting the publication -- on the same day -- of our first novels, which were both middle-grade and both from Penguin. Now, our third books debuted on almost the same day, are both YA, and not from Penguin. It's kind of parallel evolution :-) We are evolving in the same way, on opposite coasts. Ha ha!
Do read this book. Order it HERE or HERE.
Portland's fabulous literary festival is this weekend, and I will be appearing at 3 pm Saturday on the Target Children's Stage along with author Sarah Rees Brennan who's coming all the way from Ireland. Hope to see you there!