Thursday, May 19, 2016

Early Book Review: Grayling's Song by Karen Cushman

I received a free ecopy of this book from Netgalley and Clarion Books in exchange for an honest review.

Title: Grayling's Song
Author: Karen Cushman
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Publisher: Clarion Books
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Source: Netgalley
Pages: 224

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When Grayling's mother, wise woman Hannah Strong, starts turning into a tree, Hannah sends Grayling to call "the others" for help. Shy and accustomed to following her mother in everything, Grayling takes to the road. She manages to summon several "others"--second-string magic makers who have avoided the tree spell--and sets off on a perilous trip to recover Hannah's grimoire, or recipe book of charms and potions. By default the leader of the group, which includes a weather witch, an enchantress, an aspiring witch, a wizard whose specialty is divination with cheese, and a talking and shape shifting mouse called Pook, Grayling wants nothing more than to go home. 

Kidnapping, imprisonment, near drowning, and ordinary obstacles like hunger, fatigue, and foul weather plague the travelers, but they persist and achieve their goal. Returning, Grayling finds herself reluctant to part with her companions--especially Pook. At home she's no longer content to live with her bossy mother, who can look after herself just fine, and soon sets out on another journey to unfamiliar places... possibly to see the young paper maker who warmed her heart. 

My Thoughts:
Grayling's childhood has been spent fetching herbs and scrubbing out cauldrons for her wisewoman mother. One day, while returning to her cottage, she sees it is set aflame and her mother, Hannah Strong, is watching and doing nothing to stop it. Feet held to the ground like the roots of a tree, Hannah Strong tells her daughter that grave misdeeds have been done, that she is turning into a tree, and that Grayling must go out into the world and fetch the Others to help her. Grayling has never been very far from their cottage but sets out to help save her mother. On the way, she finds a few other 'magical' people to help her in her quest; Auld Nancy who can control the weather, young Pansy who accompanies Auld Nancy, the beautiful enchantress, Desdemona Cork, and an old wizard, Sylvanus Vetch. 

Of all the characters, I think I most enjoyed the shape-shifting mouse who pledged his life and service to Grayling and helped her out when she needed it. Talking animal friends are always fun in children's stories and make it that much more magical. 
We get a cast of magical characters that are determined to help Grayling and in turn, save themselves as well, but other than Grayling and the mouse, these characters seem a bit flat despite their magical abilities. Grayling herself seems to go through a transformation from the girl who has never left home to a girl that quickly befriends strangers and learns to be brave. 

I really liked the premise of this story. People turning into trees? That sounds awesome and terrifying at the same time. Unfortunately, this wasn't really what I was expecting. I liked it but it lacked something. There was adventuring, characters that at least seemed interesting, and fantasy elements that I enjoyed, but it just seemed like it needed something more. More excitement, more tension, a better villain... I'm not exactly sure what it was that didn't click with me but I didn't feel compelled to take my time with this book. 

I'd recommend to young middle-grade readers who enjoy coming-of-age fantasies. 

My Rating
3 stars

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