Thank you so much to NetGalley for sending me an ebook to write an honest review. This does not affect my rating whatsoever.
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.
TRIGGER WARNING: ANTISEMITISM, TALK OF PAST RAPE, PHYSICAL ABUSE, TALKS OF SLAVERY, TORTURE, CAPTIVITY, MURDER, BODY SHAMING, MISOGYNY, POSSIBLE SEXUAL ASSAULT
Oh my god. Where do I even start?
This was an amazing book. I loved the diversity, I adored the fairytale retelling. The writing was breathtaking and magical, rich in detail and I could see everything playing out in front of me. The Sisters of the Winter Wood dances between despair, something beautiful and the edge of danger, with revenge and betrayal at its core. It talks about the issues surrounding a society undermining and hating on their women and Jewish people. The character building was A+, bringing them to life in a way that made it feel incredible.
“Death lives here. Death will always live here.”
It was wonderfully written, the world leaping out of the pages, the characters alive and raw. The religious beliefs was wonderful to read about, seeing how the plot revolved around their faith and the way they were treated. Reading about their struggles, the torment they have suffered, brought me to tears — it felt too real, too raw. It was brimming with detail: the hurt, the disdain, the sadness . . .
The representation in The Sisters of the Winter Wood is one I admire. It also includes a plus size character (Liba), who worries about her size and if she’s good enough. But her family, and the love interest, assure her she’s gorgeous and an amazing person. I enjoyed the realness of all the characters; I loved how real Liba felt to me. She was familiar in a way that made it seem as if she was a friend who was telling me her story, instead of just a character I was reading a book about.
“We can’t fight our natures, even though we try. A bear will always be a bear, and a swan a swan. Everyone fights, malyshka; everyone questions their choices. Even people who love each other.”
Another point: Laya’s chapters being told in verse was captivating and enthralling to read. I found myself eager to read more of her ones, just because of how it all flowed together. It was beautiful, in a way that made me wish I could write just as well.
My favourite aspect was Liba and Laya being able to discover and explore their sexuality, instead of having to fight it, for the first time, since they’ve been left alone after their parents had been called away. It was exciting to read, heart pounding as I was keen to keep reading, find out what happened next. I loved the interaction between Liba and Dovid, who she was starting to fall for, even with her self-doubt and cautiousness.
“Perhaps there are different breeds of men. What separates one from the other?“
In the background of the romance, there is a murder mystery — which was written so well. It was exciting, thrilling and terrifying. The Sisters of the Winter Wood tells us what hate can do, how antisemitism can cause people to hurt others in an awful, terrible way. The author’s own experiences influenced this book, as well as being reminiscent of the very real treatment of murdered Jewish families and communities around the time of World War II and the Holocaust.
The way Rena Rossner captured the raw emotions, the hurt and hate, and from all of the negativity, pulled amazing strength and courage, is pure, unadulterated magic. I’m not embarrassed to say that I cried. I bawled. In the end, I was just sitting in my room and crying.
“I get to choose what kind of strong I want to be.”
This book has so many lessons and truths seamlessly woven in between the words and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s definitely a 5 star rating, because of the story of sisterhood, family and unconditional love, doing what you can to help and support the people you love — all the fires you will walk through just to make sure they’re ok. It’s a book that captures the magic of the forest, influenced by fairytales.
Have you read The Sisters of the Winter Wood? What did you think? If not, is it on your TBR? Let me know!