Cuckoo Song

by Frances Hardinge
First sentence: “Her head hurt.”
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Review copy left for me by the publisher rep.
Comtent: It’s more than a bit creepy, and it’s slow (like many Hardinge) books. I’ll probably put it in the YA section (grades 6-8), but I’d give it to a 10-year-old who showed interest and was willing to be patient with it.

I have not read everything Hardinge has read, but what I’ve read I’ve (almost) wholeheartedly loved. She is not an easy author to love; she makes you work for the story, often having a very slow start and building from there. Cuckoo Song was no different in that respect. It was a slow and somewhat confusing beginning, one that took me a bit to get into.

Triss has been ill for a good long while. She is Delicate, and often prone to Sickness. And so when she wakes after an accident during her family’s vacation no one seems to think that anything is the matter. Except she feels like something is … off. And her younger sister, Pen, (with whom she has always had a contentious relationship) is screaming awful things at her.  And so Triss does what any 12-year-old would do: she tries to figure out what’s wrong with her. And the deeper she goes into that mystery, the more she discovers that there are things Wrong with her family in some very dark (and somewhat magical) ways. And it’s probably up to her and Pen to fix things.

I don’t want to give away too much because much of what I loved about this was the slow realization of what was going on. There’s a reason the beginning is slow and confusing: Triss, herself, is slow and confused. The reader figures things out as Triss does, peeling one glorious, dark, delicious layer back after another. And no to worry: once the story really gets going, Hardinge’s writing is so lyrical it pulls you in, increasing the tension until the immensely satisfying ending.

It’s absolutely wonderful.

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