Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
Published by Amulet Books
Published on: May 12 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Middle Grade
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When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry, her sister seems scared of her, and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out. Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined, and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest to find the truth she must travel into the terrifying underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family-before it's too late . . .
Set in England after World War I, this is a brilliantly creepy but ultimately loving story of the relationship between two sisters who have to band together against a world where nothing is as it seems.
I don’t read very many middle grade books.
It’s not that I don’t like them or that I think I’ve outgrown them . . . I’m just not . . . very interested in the kinds of stories and perspectives that frequent the age 9 – 12 bracket.
There’s a reason I don’t ostracize them entirely, and that reason is HARRY POTTER. The first several HARRY POTTER books can be classified as many things, but they are definitely middle grade, and they encapsulate the very best that MG has to offer: a story for ALL ages. A story that engages children, adolescents, and adults alike. A story that parents and grandparents can read to their children and grandchildren or read for themselves.
If doesn’t happen often, but when it does . . . pure magic.
CUCKOO SONG by France’s Hardinge is one such story.
Ironically, I almost DNF-ed it in the first 10%.
I might not completely shun MG books, but it takes quite an inducement to get me to pick one up, and if it hadn’t been for the numerous recommendations from friends and bloggers I know and trust, I wouldn’t have made it past the creepy shrieking doll scene that followed the mysteriously mysterious beginning.
However . . . I was determined to give it a fair shot, so I persevered. *salutes trustworthy bookish friends*
The story opens with our 13-year-old main character Triss waking up in bed, surrounded by adults she cannot place, unable to recall how she got there or even what her name is.
The adults turn out to be her parents and a doctor, and after careful questioning to determine what she remembers (not much), they tell her what they know: Triss stumbled into their vacation cottage the night before–after having been put to bed–cold, wet, and disoriented. They believe she fell into the “Grimmer,” but they have no idea how it happened.
Triss, it seems, is a sickly, but obedient girl, and leaving in the middle of the night for an impromptu swim is completely uncharacteristic behavior.
While the doctor is explaining to Triss that her memories should continue to return with a little time and rest, her younger sister Pen pokes her head into the room and promptly unleashes a tirade to the tune of, “That’s not my sister! She’s a fake! How can you be fooled by that awful creature who is not my sister!”
No one pays Pen any mind b/c as good and obedient a daughter as Triss is, Pen is equally disobedient and BAD.
So Pen’s tantrum is ignored by all . . . except Triss, who can’t seem to get the accusation out of her head . . .
B/c despite her returning memories, Triss is experiencing . . . oddities: a ravenous hunger that no amount of food seems able to satiate, waking up covered in dirt and leaves with no idea how they got there, and the aforementioned dolls coming to life. *shudders*
And that’s all I’m telling you about that. It’s hard though. This tale is so wonderfully imaginative that it’s almost painful to hold it all in.
The characters are also fantastic.
There were half a dozen (at least) memorable secondaries, but it was the sisters that truly shone.
Triss and Pen . . . were complicated. I’d already heard that one of the highlights was the wonderful portrayal of their relationship, and I was confused about that for a long time. BUT. By the end, not only was I in complete agreement, I also appreciated how honest the portrayal was.
Yes, there are gooey, glowy moments of sisterly adorableness, but there were also moments of the kind of bitter spite that can only be accomplished by sisters, and without those bitter moments . . . the lovely ones aren’t nearly as sweet.
As engaging as the characters and this world were, what I loved most was how Hardinge used the disruption to shake this family out of stagnation.
A tragedy occurred years prior, and since that time the Cresents have been pretending: that things are fine, that one daughter must be coddled and protected, that the other is acting out and any reaction enables the behavior . . . and the girls have been slowly suffocating . . .
But one strange event begins a chain reaction that forces the Cresents on a path to acceptance and recovery.
CUCKOO SONG by Frances Hardinge is hilarious and bizarre and absolutely darling. The sisters and creatures were delightful, the adults (with one notable exception) horrid, but mostly redeemable . . . It’s a fantastically entertaining story that is also peppered subtly with wisdom and thought-provoking messages that apply to readers of every age and station, and I highly recommend it to one and ALL.