I love Frances Hardinge. She is one one of those writers for children that doesn't talk down to her audience and is unafraid to confront harsh truths and darknesses in her plots and characters. She is an auto-buy author for me and I anticipate her books so much. It is unfortunate that in the US we often have to wait even longer for them. (And even then may never get them. Seriously, how has A Face Like Glass not been published here yet???? It is amazing.) Hardinge's newest US release is Cuckoo Song, a book that came out in the UK last year to rave reviews from everyone I know who read it. I'm happy to add my voice to the chorus singing its praises.
Triss wakes up after a dunking in the river on holiday. Her mind is muddled and memories hazy. She is missing all the hours leading up to her accident in the river. Her sister Penny is resentful toward and angry at her, but that is not a new development. The level of Penny's rancor and distrust is new however. Wrapped in the love of her mother and father, Triss takes comfort in knowing they are there for her and support her. But this is not a typical illness. Triss is overcome with an insatiable hunger. Then her doll moves its head and begins to rage at her. Fearing she is going insane, Triss attempts every means possible to bury her growing fear and horror at what is happening to her. When she can not deny the obvious any more, Triss begins to investigate what may be wrong and discovers her family's darkest secrets and the villain who is bent on destroying them all. Triss and Pen will have to put aside their differences and face untold dangers together if they want to undo the terrible horrors moving to destroy everything they know.
It's really hard to discuss Cuckoo Song in any detail without spoilers. Basically all I really want to say is READ THIS AS SOON AS YOU CAN. Like all of Hardinge's books, Cuckoo Song has layered, three dimensional characters brought to full life. There is so much to explore and experience with these characters. Triss, Pen, their parents, Violet (the sisters' closest ally), and even the multitude of people who work against them are all fully rendered characters with stories and personalities. The journey Triss goes on through the course of this book is a fascinating one that brings out a multitude of themes and complexities that I have to be frustratingly vague about due to spoilers. But that's okay, because this is really a book that you need to experience from start to finish.
And experience is the perfect word for the act of reading this book. From the first page, Hardinge draws her reader in. She slowly builds the horror and creepiness of the story she is telling. Page after page the book is impossible to put down and walk away from. I may have growled at some people who tried to get my attention while reading. (Sorry, family.) It is a tangled web that will have you twisted up and yet still pushing on for more.
I can not recommend this book enough. (And every other Hardinge book. If you haven't experienced her yet, you are missing out. Cuckoo's Song is an excellent starting point.
I read an ARC made available via the publisher, Amulet Books, at ALA Midwinter. Cuckoo's Song goes on sale May 12th.