Cuckoo Song

Frances Hardinge
Cuckoo Song Cover

An eerie and funny read for a young person


Setting: post-WWI English village

Summary: 11-year-old Triss wakes up in bed after a mishap she cannot remember. She barely recognizes her family, or her home, and she always feels hungry. Her little sister Penny knows more than she's letting on, and her parents are receiving strange letters that they won't talk about. Triss needs to solve this mystery to make things normal again. But were things ever normal?

Flavor quote:

'I... I don't...' Triss trailed off helplessly. She didn't know what she didn't, but she was frightened by how much she didn't. [2]

The blurb that was never blurbed:

Münchausen syndrome by changeling proxy.

How it feels: Roomy and light, as middle-grade fiction should be, dappled with eerie aesthetics. Feisty little sister relieves the tension with humor. Dysfunctional family insight from the POV of an unaware insider. At times, less hand-holdy that some adult novels.

How it does not feel: The blurbs make it sound like a horror story. May be scary for very young children, but everyone else gets the green light to read this at night.

How it does not feel, part 2: Without the occasional references to car cranking, wristwatch history, and displacement of the war-time female workforce, it's easy to mistake this for a more recent time period.

Supplemental use: Could be useful with young kids suspected of a binge eating disorder. Multiple descriptions of relentless hunger and unsated void-filling might get them talking.

But let's be serious: It's cute, but inferior to the rich and sophisticated adult fiction that populates this shortlist.

Should you read this? Your little niece or nephew should read this, while you read The Race. Then you can have a nice chat over scones about the importance of psychological and feminist aspects in speculative fiction. (Both The Race and Cuckoo Song do a fine job of this without reducing feminism to a marketing point.)


This review is part of an 8-part review series on the 2014 British Science Fiction Association Best Novel Shortlist. The winner will be announced at the BSFA ceremony at Eastercon on Sunday, April 5.