An enchanting story about a book-loving girl who’s shunned by gossipy villagers and the evil stepmother who forces her to leave home may seem more than a little familiar to even the most casual Disney fan, but author Joanna Ruth Meyer (Beneath the Haunting Sea) lovingly builds upon recognizable tropes from classic fairy tales while still making her latest YA novel, Echo North, feel fresh and original.
When she was a child, Echo Alkaev was mauled by a white wolf in the woods, leaving her with a face covered in scars. Ostracized by her cruel peers, her only sources of companionship are her doting father and older brother, who treasure her intellect and the “echo” of her dead mother’s love and beauty that they see within her. But Echo’s small happiness is shattered with the arrival of her father’s new wife, who mocks Echo in private and plunges the family into debt. When Echo’s father sets off to sell his rare books, he becomes lost in the wintry woods. Echo finds him unconscious in the snow with the very white wolf who attacked her so many years ago. To save her father’s life, she strikes a curious bargain: She will live alone with the wolf for one full year, and she cannot tell her family where she’s going or have any contact with them.
Meyer takes a hard left turn into the fantastical as Echo joins the talking wolf in his house under the mountain, a beautiful but dangerous estate guarded by the North Wind and filled with old magic and enchantment. As Echo learns how to care for the cantankerous old house, including its charmed library and shifting rooms, she makes friends in unexpected new worlds and takes ownership over her life’s direction. And of course, the closer she gets to the wolf, the more determined she is to break the spell that binds him to his animal form.
Based on the Norwegian folk tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” this lyrical and romantic fantasy offers plenty for both YA lovers and fairy-tale connoisseurs to appreciate.
This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.