Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

cuckoo-songBibliographic Information:

  • Publisher, Date: Harry N. Abrams/PanMacmillian, 2015
  • Edition, First
  • Description: 408 pages ; 22 cm; hardback.
  • Interest Level: YA; Lexile Level 850
  • Summary: “When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry, her sister seems scared of her, and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out. Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined, and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest to find the truth she must travel into the terrifying underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family–before it’s too late . . Set in England after World War I, this is a brilliantly creepy but ultimately loving story of the relationship between two sisters who have to band together against a world where nothing is as it seems.”  Retrieved from publisher;       
  • ISBN: 978-1-41971-480-1
  • Subjects:
    • Fairies – Fiction
    • English History – Fiction
    • Family Issues – Fiction

Reader’s Annotation: I know it’s crazy but that dolls keep talking to me, saying terrible, mean things. And more than anything else, I really, really want to EAT it, EAT it all up!

Plot Summary:  Theresa wakes up in bed, surrounded by a doctor, her mother and her father, all watching her with great concern.  She’s been sick again, after somehow falling into a millpond called the Glimmer and wondering home with a high fever.  Triss, as she’s called, doesn’t remember any of it.  In fact, she barely remembers anything at all about her life before the moment she woke up in bed.  What she soon comes to know is that there is one person who does not care about her and that is her little sister Pen who is desperately trying to convince everyone that Triss is not really Triss but some kind of monster.

Through many days of strange events and bizarre appetites, Triss realizes that things are not as they seem, that she is not what she seems, and that only Pen really knows what is going on.  Eventually they realize that they must work together to defeat a terrible foe and the efforts of their own parents in order to restore things to the way they are supposed to be.

Critical Evaluation:  Frances Hardinge has written a really good and slightly disturbing book about fairies, family relationships, and the power of love.  Aside from the obvious supernatural features of this story, the driving force behind the story is the relationship between Triss and Pen.  Pen has played second to her often sick sister, Theresa, who is doted on by their parents.  Hardinge hints that there is a bit of a Munchausen by proxy syndrome at play in the relationship between the parents and Triss which has contributed to the hostile relationship between the sisters.  But the ‘new’ Triss is different and doesn’t want to be the object of her parents obsessions and this leads to a more positive relationship between the children.

Hardinge does a wonderful job of creating two very real and interesting human beings in these two characters.  They are completely believable and relatable even considering the situation they exist in.  You know people like them, or did when you were a child and because of that, you care about them and about the story they are in.  This is an excellent book that draws you into a dark and wonderfully creepy place.

Author’s Brief Bio:  Frances Hardinge spent her childhood in a huge, isolated old house in a small, strange village, and the two things inspired her to write strange, magical stories from an early age. She studied English at Oxford University and now lives in Oxford, England.  Retrieved from

Genre Designation: Horror and Fantasy.

Possible Curriculum Links:

  • World War I
  • English Literature / English myths and legends
    • Changelings
    • Fairies

Book Talk Ideas

  • What if you knew something terrible but no one would believe you?

Materials Relating to Potential Challenges:


Why this book was selected. Once again I was attracted first by the cover art which is really a little disturbing.  The book, however, lived up to the cover by being a little scary, somewhat creepy exploration of a modern retelling of English fairy tales.


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