An intriguing and original children’s story. 4/5 stars.
The blurb: ‘Lay low and grow’ is the motto of the waifs of Duldred Hall. The only way to escape their life of drudgery is to reach the magical height of 5 thighs 10 oggits, yet Master Jeopardine is determined to feed them little and keep them small. When the Master’s methods grow more sinister the waifs must face their doubts. What is kept in the Bone Room? Why is Rook’s Parlour locked? A new waif arrives and the fight for survival begins. But this child brings another mystery. Who is Oy?
Oy Yew was longlisted for the Times/Chicken House prize.
As ever, clicking on the cover image will take you to the book’s Goodreads page.
Ana Salote contacted me to ask if I would read and review her middle grade children’s book, Oy Yew. Intrigued by the blurb, I jumped at the chance. Thank you, Ana!
Obviously now I’m in the tricky position of having to describe this book, which is a difficult task because it’s a quirky and original tale. Without going into too much depth, the world of Oy Yew is one where child slave labour is the norm. The waifs – who are a different race to their masters – are kept in servitude until they grow to reach a certain height, at which point they should be set free. Unwilling to lose his workforce, their master does everything he can to stunt their growth and therein lies the crux of this story of survival and struggle.
The characters are great, and I can imagine this book’s core audience (it’s billed as middle grade, so 8-12 year olds, which felt spot on to me) loving the waifs and hating the “baddies” in equal measure. And while the waifs and their plots are at the centre of the story, it’s the villain (as is often the case) who becomes the star of the show. Master Jeopardine is increasingly unhinged and sinister but never cartoonish. In his best moments, he brought to mind other nasties of children’s fiction such as Mrs Trunchbull in Roald Dahl’s Matilda.
The story is well-written and sinister and creepy in places without becoming frightening. And while the waifs suffer, there’s nothing which will traumatize younger or more sensitive readers (particularly if they’ve already read and enjoyed the works of Dahl or Lemony Snicket).
I did wonder if the book is a little too long for its core audience. However, that said, I could imagine reading a couple of chapters of this a night with a child because the story can be divided easily into short episodes. I do think more illustrations would be a valuable addition. There is one at the start of the book which shows the waifs and it’s wonderful. I think four or five more like this dotted throughout the book would add a lot to the story.
Oy Yew is the first part of The Waifs of Duldred trilogy and the second installment will be published later this year. Thank you again to Ana for giving me the opportunity to read and review her book.
You can find your own copy of Oy Yew on Amazon.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul