Tuesday, February 7, 2012
GN Review -- Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword / Barry Deutsch
So we know the protagonist, at least, is a refreshing change of pace.
The rest of the story, it turns out, offers a diverse array of refreshing characters, situations, and themes, making Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword both entertaining in its execution and instructive in its assertion that imagination, bravery, and a willingness to follow your own path despite what others think are qualities that will serve a young girl well.
Mirka is an 11-year-old girl in Hereville, an isolated, Orthodox Jewish rural community, whose spunkiness and disregard for her village's norms make her instantly likable and worries her friends and family. When she discovers a tall, strange-looking house in the forest, she and her friends encounter a large, mean-spirited pig who becomes a minor bane on Mirka after he sees her stealing a grape from his garden. In outwitting the magical animal, she is presented with a quest from the pig's owner and is granted the option of pursuing a troll to win her own sword with which to fight evil. Mirka must decide if the risk is worth the reward, and weigh it against her personal safety, the perceptions of her own strict community, and the memory of her deceased mother.
There's really no arguing that Hereville is a charming, unique and overall very heartwarming story. The character is both engaging and an ideal target for conflict because of her unconventional nature in an Orthodox Jewish community, and her magical encounters add a generous dash of fantasy to a home life for which she otherwise exhibits little enthusiasm. I had slight problems with some of the choices made in the story, particularly Mirka's decision to beat up her brother Zindel and threaten him when he tried to keep her from searching for the troll. But this is overshadowed by the overall upbeat tone of the narrative, where her quest for self-discovery--and a sword--become her all-encompassing goal.
Barry Deutsch has also written some very amusing and memorable characters for this story. My personal favorite was Fruma, Mirka's argumentative and wise stepmother, whose penchant for verbal sparring and discussion is notorious among the children. The talking pig with whom Mirka gets into a sustained feud is also highly entertaining, as he is not only gruff and grumpy, but emerges as the major test of Mirka's willpower and grit. Finally, there's the troll with whom Mirka duels, who is unconventional not only in appearance but also in speech and manner. I won't spoil much about him, but I think he was a delight to read in this story as well.
As for the art, I was actually pleasantly surprised at how it struck me in some places. It's mostly simple and cartoony in places, but at particular moments of strong emotion or surprise, the style changes, becoming more detailed and really making the reader take notice. Of particular note are the moments when Mirka first sees the large house, and the fight between her and Zindel, when you can clearly see how intensely and viciously angry the siblings are at one another in the heat of the argument. All in all, very good work here.
Overall, I found this to be a worthwhile and entertaining read, with a strong message about following your own path in the face of opposition from others. Raina Telgemeier says that comics need more positive girl characters, and I not only agree with her, but also believe like her that this book is a prime example of that assertion. Children of all ages should enjoy this, as well as those who like fantasy and folklore, strong girl characters, and stories about family. Highly recommended.