Book Review — Cuckoo Song


Title:  Cuckoo Song
Author:  Frances Hardinge
Genre:  YA fantasy, horror, historical fiction, mystery
Pages:  Hardback, 408
Publisher:  Amulet Books
ISBN:  978-1-4197-1480-1
Opening Lines:  "Her head hurt.  There was a sound grating against her mind, a music-less rasp like the rustling of paper"

Rating


"Following a mysterious accident that left her sopping wet, Triss awakens to a world that's eerily off-kilter. Her memories are muddled, her sister despises her, pages have been stolen from her private journal, and her appetite is insatiable. Confusion quickly turns to dread as she begins to see and hear things she shouldn't. Her dolls reveal themselves to be deceitful, living creatures; she's suddenly and inexplicably afraid of scissors; and when she brushes her hair, out sprinkle crumbled fragments of leaves.

"Then she stumbles across evidence that hedr beloved brother, killed in the war, is actually alive—and she begins to suspect that the secrets lurking within her home are even more shocking than her twisted new reality. Is Triss going mad? Or did her accident trigger a nightmarish chain of events? In her quest to learn the truth, Triss ventures from the shelter of her parents' protective wings into the city's underbelly. There she encounters strange creatures whose grand schemes could forever alter the fates of her family."

~ Jacket copy




One of the joys of my current job is the bi-annual book fairs!  On my short lunch breaks, I would take the time to just wander through the displays of books.  Some of them really didn't look appealing.  Others, however, really caught my attention.  This was one such book.  Sometimes YA horror can be awful and painful to read, so I was curious whether this one would be different.  Honestly, the cover also really drew me in.  Imagine my surprise when I saw it sitting on the shelf at the local library several months later!  And thus began my journey with this book.

Hmm, that is truly a hard question to answer.  The jacket copy does an amazing job giving tantalizing details without giving away the huge twist of the book.  At a basic level, it is about a family torn by the death of their son during WWI and how they cope.  However, it is so much more than that!  It centers around Triss—the sick daughter of well-to-do parents—and her struggle with her identity, the strange occurrences after her accident, and her relation with her family (especially her younger sister, Pen).

This book was excellent!  It has all the elements of a fairy tale while using the guise of post-WWI England as it's backdrop: the start of the post-war feminism, the birth of Jazz, and the very real effects of war and loss.  In addition, it also has all of the workings of a Gothic novel: gloomy settings, supernatural creatures, curses, and heroes.    

One of the things that really struck me in this book is the fact that the author didn't pull any punches.  She tackles a lot of major and complex issues.  Not only is she dealing with a family struggling hard to maintain the last vestiges of what they once were after an intense loss, but she dares to even show the socio-economic crisis after the end of the war.  In some ways, while the Jazz clubs seem lively, they are shown as escapism in the very real face of things like hunger.  It is also fascinating that the author uses a lot of the terminology from that time period, locale, and culture.  In addition, spurning the typical YA romance and veiled references to sex in favor of a strong relationship with her little sister was a very surprising and welcome addition to this story.  

It is really hard to fully address everything in this book without giving away Triss' full plight and the mystery surrounding her accident; however, it is definitely worth the read.  Despite the gloomy, war-torn setting, this book is beautiful and full of hope and wonder.  Even though Triss is only 13-years-old, this book has very complex themes, so it does not ostracize adult audiences.  Do not pass this one up!


Much love, Sinn

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    "If you’re a freak like me, Wave your flag! If you’re a freak like me, Get off your ass! It’s our time now, To let it all hang out!" I am a recovering English major, closet bibliophile, breve addicted, zombie lover with a rockabilly and heavy metal fetish.