Sisters of the Winter Wood is lush, imaginative, and absolutely captivating. It mixes mythology, Goblin Market, and Jewish history to form a book that is gorgeous inside and out.
Raised in a small village surrounded by vast forests, Liba and Laya have lived a peaceful sheltered life – even if they’ve heard of troubling times for Jews elsewhere. When their parents travel to visit their dying grandfather, the sisters are left behind in their home in the woods.
But before they leave, Liba discovers the secret that their Tati can transform into a bear, and their Mami into a swan. Perhaps, Liba realizes, the old fairy tales are true. She must guard this secret carefully, even from her beloved sister.
Soon a troupe of mysterious men appear in town and Laya falls under their spell-despite their mother’s warning to be wary of strangers. And these are not the only dangers lurking in the woods…
The sisters will need each other if they are to become the women they need to be – and save their people from the dark forces that draw closer.
Sisters of the Winter Wood is told in alternating sister voices – one in prose and the other in verse. It’s a story about love, family, and sisterhood. It’s a story that mixes danger, hated, fear, and bravery. At the same time, it’s a story about women straining to be free, learning about who they are, and embracing their differences. Sisters of the Winter Wood will captivate you whether you’re interested in sisterhood, Goblin Markets, or stories about swans.
Sisters of the Winter Wood has a lot of elements of Jewish traditions and religion within the story. This gave the story a really unique feel as the book also mixes in elements of the Goblin Market – one of my favorite poems. As a whole, this is a story about necessity and magic intertwining. As is said in the book, “sometimes you become what you need to be in a time of great need”. It’s about fairy tales becoming true.
(A note about the Judaism within the book. There’s an excellent glossary and Rossner writes an author’s note about the historical influences. It influences the book from the core. There is the rhetoric, hatred, and fear all mixed within the dangers of this fantasy world).
It’s about finding the potential within us. To be different. To be more than we think we are.
At the same time, it’s a story of love, of mistakes, of fear, of bravery. One that is firmly rooted in sisterhood and sisters who discover the strength and love for each other – in order to save each other.
A piece of the book I didn’t expect to love so much, was the story of the mother – and the character of the mother. Even though she’s a side character, because she disappears for a significant portion of the book, her journey and strength is formidable. At the same time she is vulnerable, admits her own mistakes, and has the power to right some powerful wrongs. Her relationship and love for both of her daughters is touching and the ways she stresses their agency is heart warming.
While I’m more like Liba, I found myself empathizing with Laya. Both sisters are struggling to find who they are and the dreams they want. It’s a moment of great change, where they stand on the edge of everything they know. And they have to figure out which direction to go. Liba struggles with believing she is worthy of love. She has struggles with her body image, and so her story of love is particularly touching.
If you’ve been looking for a book about sisterhood, the ways we hurt the ones we love, and the ways we show our love for our sisters, this is the book for you. It’s got the same tenuous balance between protection and stiffing, and both of the characters make spaces in your heart. Sisters of the Winter Wood deals with what happens when we don’t say what we saw. It’s a multi-faceted book that has so many different layers and is a true joy to read.