Cover image and internal illustration by Emma Howitt.
Published by Mother’s Milk Books, 2015.
Oy Yew is the story of the waifs of Duldred Hall. Theirs is a life of drudgery and captivity. They are enslaved to Master Jeopardine and will remain so until they have grown tall enough to reach the height of 5 thighs 10 oggits. However, their chances of growing are slight as they are fed little and worked hard. They labour in the huge house every day from morning until night and are referred to by their job titles (Drains and Stains, Peelings and Ceilings, Metals and Kettles…) rather than their names. There is a deliciously dark Dickensian feel to all of this and the opening scenes in the factory reminded me of Victorian workhouses.
An unlikely hero arrives in the form of Oy Yew, a particularly frail waif, who joins the others at Duldred Hall after being transferred from the factory. Yet there’s something special about Oy, something that sets him apart. He has a sensitivity about him. He is perceptive. Added to this, he has an ability to imagine he is somewhere or someone else and his imagination is so vivid that he can be momentarily transformed. He is gifted too with very keen senses of smell and taste. These are all strengths which prove key in the waifs’ fight for survival.
And fight for survival they must. Sinister goings on are uncovered in the house and Master Jeopardine’s obsessive quest for a unique skeleton to add to his collection may prove fatal.
The story is carefully plotted, well paced and beautifully written. Ana Salote’s imagery is evocative and poetic. In one of my all time favourite sentences, Salote describes how, on the eve of their separation, Oy and Linnet gazed at each other “…their faces were passive but their eyes were busy storing friendship.” I also liked the ‘otherness’ of the story: it is set in new lands, not in the present day, units of measurement and currency are different, names are unusual, plants and animals unfamiliar.
Throughout the book, the themes of friendship and loyalty are very strong. Relationships between characters are believable and well developed. I loved the waifs and cared about their fate. There is a message of hope running through the novel; amazing things can be achieved when friends join together. The book also explores the transformative power of learning to read.
Oy Yew is a real page turner; it drew me in from the beginning and, as the plot developed, I couldn’t wait to see how everything would be resolved. The second book in the trilogy will be published later this year and I’ll definitely be reading it.
Suitable for children aged 8+
Thank you to Ana Salote for sending me this book to review.