Uprooted for Porter Square Book of the Year 2015

Uprooted by Naomi NovikAfter Uprooted by Naomi Novik won its bracket to become the first adult finalist in the #PSBookof2015 contest, Josh asked me if I wouldn’t mind writing a blog post in support of the book’s candidacy. The answer was a huge no-brainer of a YES. (In fact, this is the second time I’ve written an entire blog post about Uprooted, the first time being my gobsmacked reaction piece upon finishing it for the first time.)

So. Why I adore Uprooted to the bottom of my heart, and why you should too. Here we go.

The flap copy, while accurate, does little justice to the wonder inside Uprooted’s pages. But I’ll start with that anyway. What is Uprooted about? It’s about one girl, Agnieszka, who lives in a valley ruled by the mysterious Dragon, who descends from his castle once every ten years to pick a village girl to come live with him. Agnieszka knows she won’t be picked. The Dragon only picks the special girls, the brave girls, and there’s nothing at all special about her. Until, somehow, he does…

We’ve seen this setup before. It’s Beauty and the Beast. It’s Cupid and Psyche. It’s, to be honest, kinda sorta a little too familiar to people like you and me who read a) a lot of fantasy and b) still snuggle up with our well-worn copies of Ella Enchanted and McKinley’s Beauty when we need a quiet hot chocolate kind of night. And Uprooted is exactly that…and then it becomes SO much more.

It’s Beauty and the Beast…until it’s not. It’s a magician and his young apprentice…until it’s not. It’s about a war, and an evil lurking in the forbidden forest…until it’s not. Every expectation I had about classic fantasy (built upon oh, twenty years of reading in this beloved genre) was met and then quickly subverted while I turned the pages faster and faster, eager to be surprised once more. Uprooted had the comforting feel of home in sleeker, faster, unexpected and exciting packaging.

In particular I loved these: the deep and central relationship between Agnieszka and her best friend Kasia. The pseudo-historical Poland setting, and the incorporation of the legends of Baba Yaga. The complex and well-conceived magical system, and the way that Agnieszka confronts it. The truth about what lies at the heart of the malevolent forest. The way I thought I knew what was going to happen and still found myself happily surprised.

At its core, Uprooted is the story of one girl who doesn’t believe she’s anything special until she’s thrust into a situation where she has to find her exceptional strength in order to survive. It’s a coming of age story in a rich, fully realized fantasy setting. It’s a best-friendship story. It’s a fairy tale in the very best of ways. In short, it’s a book for my own heart. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go reread it right now.