Thursday, July 2, 2015

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

After accidentally (?) falling in a pond known as the Grimmer while on vacation, Triss Crescent, 13, wakes up and immediately senses something is wrong.  Nothing, not even her family, are as familiar as they should be.  Her younger sister Penny, 11, suddenly seems to be afraid of her and beginning to hysterically yell that Triss isn't her sister, that she's a fake and an awful creature.  And Triss's memories, well, it feels as though each one isn't all there.  To top it all off, she is always ravenously hungry.

Her parents decide to cut the vacation short and return to London, hoping that will help Triss recover.  But while packing her belongings, Triss picks up her favorite doll Angelina.  As she wonders why she brought her on vacation, the doll begins to speak, outraged that Triss is there with Angelina's family and telling Triss she's not right.  In panic, Triss smashes Angelina china face and hides her in the closet.

If you think this is going to be a creepy doll story, it isn't and that's not a spoiler.  Cuckoo Song is more, so much more than simply that.  Back in London, things begin to happen more and more quickly.  First, her parents begin to notice changes in Triss, who is no longer their neat, clean, quiet, obedient daughter.  And Triss discovers changes in herself; that in the morning, she finds twigs and leaves in her bed with no idea how they got there; that when she cries, cobwebs, not tears, flow from her eyes,; that she can eat pretty much anything, but certain of her possessions are more satisfying than food; that all the pages in her diaries have ripped out and only the covers remain; that scissors are things to be dreadfully afraid of; and that in his bedroom turned sanctuary, mysterious letters appear in the desk drawer of her older brother.  Sebastian had been killed in the last days of World War I, so how could letters from him be arriving five years later?

But only when Triss discovers that she is not really Triss, does the real mystery begin.  Who is she, exactly?  And where is the real Triss?  To find out, she will need Penny's help; after all, everything that has happened since not-Triss was pulled out of the Grimmer instead of Triss, is because of Penny's hatred of her older sister.  Together they will have to discover the truth about the mysterious Mr. Grace and his scissors, what kind of dealings the Architect and Mr. Crescent had, and what a magical creature called the Shrike knows.

And since not-Triss has only a few days left to live, they will also need the help of Violet Parrish, Sebastian's fiancee now despised by his parents for her modern ways.  It's Violet who had a wartime job, and who now rides a motorcycle, dresses in pants, has bobbed hair and listens to jazz, who rejects all the pre-war traditionalism that the Crescents so wholeheartedly want to maintain.

Cuckoo Song is one of those deliciously written novels that is hard to talk about because it will result in too many spoilers.  But if you keep out the spoilers, it doesn't give the story the kind of justice it is due. Oddly enough, at the center of the story is the Great War.  It's the dividing line between certainty and uncertainty:

"Before the war, everybody had their rung on the ladder, and they didn't look much below or about it.  But now? Low and high died side by side in Flanders Fields, and looked much the same face down in the mud.  And the heroes who cam e back from hell didn't fancy tugging their forelocks as they starved on the streets.  And the women! Once, they kept to to their pretty little path and didn't step on the grass. But those who worked in the farms and factories during the war, have a taste for running their own lives now, haven't they?  So all their menfolk are panicking.  Frightened, Uncertain.  And all this doubt, this shaking up of the foundations, there was more of it in the cities" (Kindle loc. 2557)

This chaotic uncertainty is what Triss and Penny's parents want to stop.  As a civil engineer, Piers Crescent has made a terrible bargain to do that which results in keeping the sense of his son alive through the letters that arrive everyday.   Penny unwittingly unleashes events in to novel that could destroy this bargain simply because she hates her sister, not for any other reason.

This beautifully written novel has been called creepy, horrifying, frightening, but I would call it realistic, magical, imaginative and not to be missed.  It is a wonderful mystery that will take the reader on an unforgettable journey.  And will have you questioning your own ideas about what it means to be human.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+, but I would not hesitate to recommend it to readers age 10+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

1 comment:

  1. Hi Alex, I have to read this - it sounds wonderful. Thanks for another excellent review. You do find THE best books. Barbara


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