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Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish: 11/30/17

Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish by Barry Deutsch

How Mirka Caught a Fish by Barry Deutsch is the third of the Hereville books. It opens with Mirka and her parents returning from the hospital, Mirka newly born. Then it fast-forwards to the present where Mirka is told to babysit her young half sister because her stepmother has to run a quick errand out of Hereville before the Sabbath starts.

As Hereville is a Jewish Orthodox town, that means, among other things, no driving once the sun sets on Friday until the sun sets on Saturday. It comes down to a no fire (no taking the easy route to do things, when the mind and heart should be preoccupied on God and the Torah.

Mirka, it's been established through previous books, doesn't feel like she fits in the restrictive community of Hereville. She doesn't feel cut out to be the sort of fruma (pious woman) her stepmother is trying to teach her how to be.

What this book does is fill in the blanks to explain where some of that resentment comes from. Mirka's family are first generation residents in Hereville. Even, the very traditional stepmother was raised moderne. But something happened in the past to inspire Mirka's family to move to Hereville. I'm not entire sure how old Hereville is — even though it's on the edge a magical forest (where a troll, a witch, and now we learn, a magical fish live).

The magical fish is like a djinn, in that it grants wishes and all the wishes have consequences. What's different about this magical creature is that the unfolding of this book's adventures is a shared responsibility between Frieda and Mirka and her half-sister. One could argue none of this would have happened if Mirka had listened to her stepmother and stayed out of forest. But the fish wouldn't have been as dangerous as it has become if young Freida hadn't tried to use a wish against the fish.

The flashbacks are handled through a magic hairband, loaned by the witch to Mirka to help against the fish. The hairband is actually a portable time loop and in a logic all its own, shows Mirka the past but doesn't allow her to interact with it.

The previous two volumes were more like parables dressed up in adventure fantasy comics. While there are still lessons here, the stakes are much higher for everyone involved in this book. In one way or another, Mirka, her half-sister, and their mother nearly lose their lives. They literally lose everything. It's one of the highest stakes fantasy plots I've seen in a while that felt genuine, surprising, and real without being melodramatic.

Five stars

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