Hereville: Witches, ghosts, pigs, and precocious Orthodox Jewish girls
Mirka is a precocious 11-year old Orthodox Jewish girl who enjoys arguing with her step-mother Fruma and daydreaming about fighting dragons. One day while wandering through the woods, she discovers a strange tall house whose owner is a mysterious woman who seems to walk through the air. When she goes back to show her friends the house, she picks a single grape from the house's grape vine, which attracts the hostility of a giant hog which chases Mirka around, eats her homework, and otherwise drives her crazy.
It will take all of her bravery and cleverness to defeat the pig, and even then there is still the witch who owns it to deal with. The witch is willing to offer Mirka instructions on how to get anything she desires, but following them might just get the girl into even more trouble.
Mirka as a character is very interesting. She's impulsive, short-tempered, and can be rather pig-headed, but we also get to see her protecting her young brother and her friends, and her bravery and cleverness are often on display. I also loved that her solution to the test she finds herself having to prove herself with is such a quintessentially Jewish solution.
Speaking of Judaism, I loved how much the Orthodox Ashkenazi culture of Hereville permeates the story so much. Characters often using Yiddish words and phrases, all of which are translated at the bottom of the page. I liked how only one of Mirka's friends knew what the pig was , as since Hereville is a Jewish shtetl, of course no one keeps pigs. I also liked how Mirka's stepmother Fruma, despite looking a bit like your typical evil stepmother (particularly her incredibly long and pointy nose), and despite her frequent arguing with Mirka, is in the story a very good and helpful character, who genuinely loves Mirka and is loved in return by her.
The one thing I was not particularly impressed with was the art. It's not that it's bad, it's just that it's fairly formulaic and is rather lacking in style. It's serviceable, but aside from a few scenes (such as when Mirka encounters a troll), it's not in any way remarkable.
I also had some trouble placing when and where this story is supposed to take place. Hereville is obviously a shtetl, but shtetls don't really exist any more, while dialogue and a few scenes (in particular Mirka's school) looks rather modern. I'm not sure when and where this is supposed to take place, and wondering is rather distracting.
However, the interesting story, humor, and interesting use of Orthodox Ashkenazi culture is worthy of being commended. It's certainly an interesting, and I would recommend checking it out if you happen upon it.
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