Oy Yew follows the story of Oy, a waif whose only memories are of stealing measly crumbs from outside a bakery. He is caught and sent to Duldred Hall. The master of the hall, Jeopardine, treats the waifs as slaves and is determined to keep them undernourished so they cannot grow, and so he can keep them toiling away there.
‘I can’t ‘member nothing before the bakery. I just sprout there, like a weed I think – live off crumbs and sour dough slung out back. I watch and hear through windows and in the alley but no one sees me. So I wonder what I am.’
This book was long-listed for the Times / Chicken House prize for children’s fiction and it’s easy to see why. The waifs live in a Victorian-style workhouse turned even more twisted. The waifs have a lot to fight against and they must work together.
Oy is a lovely character. He starts off with no sense of self, he was ‘slight, weakly, overlooked. He had thought himself some sort of ghost.’ He is sweet and he is shy. This book will resonate with any child who has ever felt invisible. Ana Salote is a sensitive writer: the waifs have their foibles but they are written well. It’s often darkly funny.
Oy Yew is recommended for ages eight and over (including adults!). It’s a fun and intriguing summer read.
Oy Yew is out now. Thank you to Mother’s Milk Books for the review copy.