Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite by Barry Deutsch
|Book Name:||How Mirka Met a Meteorite|
|Publisher(s):||Harry N. Abrams (US) Amulet Books (UK)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Ebook|
|Genre(s):||YA Fantasy / Middle Grade Fantasy / Graphic Novel|
|Release Date:||November 1, 2012|
I’ve done a post on sequels before, and on the difficulty of making them both true to the original book while still building on the world and the characters. I think, in every review I write of a book that isn’t either standalone or the first in a series, I’ll be tempted to revisit that point, either to illustrate how the book I’m reviewing does its job perfectly or how it falls short. It’s a difficult balancing act to maintain, I must be the luckiest woman in the world, since the sequels I’ve reviewed for this site have stood up magnificently.
How Mirka Met a Meteorite is a little more ambiguous.
I unequivocally loved the first book in the series. What wasn’t to love? Mirka, an eleven-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl, defeats a troll and wins a sword so she can fight monsters. Her faith and culture are large parts of her life, and while she does sometimes chafe at all the rules she has to obey because of them, they are presented as a rich part of her life, something to be celebrated rather than fought against. (I said it in my review of How Mirka Got Her Sword and I’ll say it again here: The depiction of Shabbos was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read in a graphic novel.) Best of all, she’s allowed to be imperfect without being portrayed as either a bratty child or an idealized rebellious preteen. In fact, she’s both, and those two archetypes manage to coexist in her without becoming a contradiction.
Mirka is just as wonderful in the sequel, which opens with her being desperately bored after her stepmother grounds her, and she winds up trying to do battle with her brother and stepsister, both of whom turn her down. After being soundly trounced at chess by her stepmother, she is un-grounded and turned loose upon Hereville, where she heads out to pester the troll she defeated in the previous book and quite accidentally causes him to summon a meteorite which would crush Hereville.
Just another day in the life of an eleven-year-old girl.
Hereville doesn’t get crushed by the meteorite. That would likely be too bleak for a book that my public library keeps in their kids’ section. Instead, the meteorite is transformed into Mirka’s doppelganger, and that’s when the real fun begins.
The story itself is wonderful. It’s funny and sweet and touching, and I devoured the book in one night (and would have even if it hadn’t been a graphic novel but something longer). Mirka’s attempt to keep the meteorite from taking over her life strikes just the right balance between humor and tension, and her younger siblings Rochel and Zindel play a larger role than they did in the first book, which I loved. Mirka’s stepmother isn’t quite the wicked witch she seemed at the start of the first book, and once again she gives Mirka some touching advice which is more useful than she realizes. There’s another Shabbos scene, though this time it’s much shorter and more attention goes to the plot of the book.
Maybe that’s why I enjoyed the first book so much. By this one, Hereville is already well established in the readers’ minds, and there isn’t much need to go back and revisit the worldbuilding I so loved about the first one. While Mirka’s culture is still very present, it doesn’t have the weight it did in the first book, where it did more than just suffuse the story: It leapt out and demanded to be acknowledged. In my review of the first Hereville book, I talked about how there simply weren’t enough books about eleven-year-old Orthodox Jewish girls, let alone eleven-year-old Orthodox Jewish girls who fought trolls. I still think that’s true, and I still think that the best way to end that is to write books that proclaim proudly that they are about eleven-year-old Orthodox Jewish girls. (This, of course, applies to any other group that doesn’t have enough books written about them as well.) But then, maybe it’s enough just to have a book with a character like Mirka, where her identity is so much a part of her story that it never has to be questioned or fought over. It’s a quandary, one that likely won’t be solved any time soon.
I think the other reason I wasn’t as fond of this book is because it didn’t have as much of a fairy tale feel as I had come to love from the first book. Mirka did have to fight the meteorite with three challenges, but the first book had more of a focus on the witch, the troll, and the wicked stepmother. It was a fairy tale seen through the eyes of a real eleven-year-old girl, not the sort that populates the stories of Perrault and the Brothers Grimm that we’ve all grown accustomed to.
But then, I’m particularly fond of books that play around with tropes I’ve grown up with. My own particular tastes should only govern part of how I choose to recommend a book to others. How Mirka Met a Meteorite is an excellent sequel, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is, has been, or knows an eleven-year-old girl.