Review by Ekaterina Shatalova
BEAST OF THE WOODS («Зверь лесной»)
by Asya Kravchenko, cover design by Marina Pavlikovskaya (Volchok, 2020), 96 pages.
The latest book by Asya Kravchenko (Ася Кравченко), this is a short older MG/early teen novel blended with elements of magical realism that reminded me of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and The Song from Somewhere Else by A.F. Harrold.
‘If you ever get lost in the woods,
Turn your shirt inside out,
Put the right boot on your left foot,
And the left boot – on your right.’
After being transferred to a new school for her talents, 13-year old Sasha feels isolated and struggles to make new friends. On the day the story starts, the girls from school tease her by throwing her woolly hat around, and in return Sasha snatches one of the girls’ hats and runs away to the nearby small forest. Lera, the owner of the hat, follows her to the forest and then mysteriously disappears.
Crying in the forest, unaware of what has happened to Lera, Sasha wishes there were somebody big and strong who could protect her. As they say, be careful what you wish for…
In the meantime, the school sends out a search party for the missing girl, during which they find a torn piece of Lera’s red jacket. Sasha feels guilty, she keeps returning to the forest where she gets the feeling that somebody is watching her. Then she meets it – huge, hairy, shapeless – the Beast of the Woods. He follows her everywhere, but no one can see him, apart from Sasha. The beast indeed looks after Sasha, but he also challenges her to question her dreams and aspirations.
One of the boys from school invites Sasha (who is never invited anywhere) to watch the fireworks one evening with the rest of the classmates. Excited, she gets to the agreed point of meeting only to find out that there is nobody waiting for her. After unsuccessful attempts to find her ‘friends’ among the crowds of drunken laughing people, she runs into the Beast who offers her to go with him.
The next day, on her way to the school, the Beast shows up again, luring Sasha to go into the woods as there she can be anything she wants. Being at one with nature, she feels truly accepted by the forest. But then the Beast shows her his ‘gift’ – a weird looking cocoon. As Sasha comes closer to it, she catches the glimpse of something red inside. And then she realises – it’s Lera trapped inside, and if Sasha doesn’t save her, she will die.
Beautifully written, this captivating ‘fantasy thriller’ (as defined by the publisher) covers a whole range of crucial topics, such as school bullying, parent-child relationship, teen issues, and most importantly, overcoming your insecurities and fears.
About the author
Asya Kravchenko (b. 1971) is a journalist, editor, psychologist, and author of numerous children’s books, winner of the Krapivin International Children’s Literature Award.