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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 99/100: Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

Cuckoo Song - Frances Hardinge

Although this book opens with what is becoming a common trope in YA fiction -- a main character wakes up with gaps in her memory living in a world that seems somewhat off-kilter -- by a third of the way in it has distinguished itself from the crowd. Taking place right after World War I, it is a surreal blend of historical fiction, urban fantasy, and magical realism. It would have been considered a horror if not for the choice of viewpoint character, and that's one of the things that makes this book so interesting -- it goes inside the mind of "the other," into the character that would inspire fear in the reader if any other character told the story. Instead, this narrative choice leads us to sympathize with the very character that would otherwise inspire fear.

The characterization is skillfully done, particularly within Triss's immediate family. Her sister Penny feels like a real 11-year-old, with all her mixture of defiance and vulnerability. The family dynamic alone was enough to keep me reading, and one of my complaints about this book is that it was never more deeply explored, particularly in terms of the mother's particular neuroses. But the events of the novel definitely upset that dynamic, which is probably what the family needed most of all.

Most striking in this book are its visual descriptions, which could have come from the imagination of Tim Burton or Neil Gaiman. It would make a beautiful and haunting movie, or even a lush illustrated volume.

There were times when the book felt longer than it needed to be, but that will be quickly forgotten as the eerie visions and ethical dilemmas that arose while reading this book will remain much, much longer.