In this painful and powerful tale set in post-WWI England, readers meet 11-year-old Triss, the coddled daughter of a respected civil engineer and an overprotective mother, as well as her jealous younger sister, Pen. As the story opens, Triss has somehow fallen into a local pond, barely escaping with her life, and she regains consciousness to find that the world has gone strange. Her memories are spotty and inconsistent, store mannequins and dolls turn their heads to follow her movements, and every time she closes her eyes she senses “dreams waiting at the mousehole of her mind’s edge, ready to catch her up in their soft cat-mouth and carry her off somewhere she did not want to go.” Triss feels an overwhelming hunger that cannot be assuaged by human food and suspects she is no longer human. In the guise of a gorgeously written and disconcerting fairy tale, Hardinge (A Face Like Glass) delves deeply into the darker side of family life, particularly sibling rivalry and the devastating effect war can have on those left at home. Ages 12–up. Agent: Nancy Miles, Miles Stott Literary Agency. (May)
STARRED REVIEW "Hardinge’s quiet but elegant prose moves the story seamlessly from an effectively creepy horror tale to a powerful, emotionally resonant story of regret and forgiveness."
STARRED REVIEW "In addition to her beautiful, enrapturing, and careful use of language, Hardinge’s story is vivid, frightening, and inventive, with narrative twists and turns that feel both surprising and inevitable....A piercing, chilling page-turner."
"With a combination of horror and wry humor reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's Coraline, Cuckoo Song transcends its teen-reader designation. The pyschological and historical nuances...will mesmerize older readers as well."
"Cuckoo Song is a sophisticated, disturbing tale that shivers with suspense and touching moments of bravery."
Gr 5 Up—Ever since her older brother died in World War I, things have been tense for Triss and her family. After Triss suffers a horrible accident, her memory is hindered and all of a sudden she feels a strange, insatiable hunger that can only be calmed by digesting unusual items. From here, events proceed in an unexpected way as magical promises are made, relationships are tested, and characters question what it means to be alive. Mysterious letters and dangerous strangers create a mood of suspicion and paranoia as pieces of the story fall into place at just the right moment. Many secondary characters make understandable but regrettable mistakes throughout, cementing themselves as realistic and complex individuals. The beautiful writing is full of rich language that is reminiscent of an old fairy tale. Fans of Hardinge will not be disappointed in this latest spine-chilling, creative work that offers a nuanced depiction of grief within the structure of a well-wrought fantasy.—Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ
This dense and twisty fantasy set in post-World War I Great Britain mixes monstrous creatures, sibling rivalry, a supernatural doppelgänger, family dysfunction and a kidnapping into a complex brew of eerie atmosphere and unexpected events.Hardinge is a master stylist whose imaginative works resemble one another only in the consistently impressive quality of her writing. Each narrative builds a unique world, and this combination of postwar tristesse and scary magical beings known as Besiders is no different. Evocative descriptions of the parallel settings, sharply drawn characters and fast-paced action pull readers along, though some may occasionally be distracted rather than transported by the heavy use of metaphor. Freakish actions and confusion on the part of the main character set the stage for an unsettling revelation a quarter of the way through that adds even more suspense and challenges readers' ability to empathize. While sisters Triss and Penelope are 11 and 9, the dangers they face and the issues their family grapples with suggest that readers slightly older than the protagonists will be best equipped to sort through the murky motivations, painful betrayals and matter-of-factly presented alternate reality. Nuanced and intense, this painstakingly created tale mimics the Escher-like constructions of its villainous Architect, fooling the eyes and entangling the emotions of readers willing and able to enter into a world like no other. (Fantasy. 11-14)