Read This Book

Read This Book…

Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!

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Today my pick is a lovely little novella that packs a punch! You might remember that last year I recommended When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill as one of my favorites of the year—well, don’t miss her newest release, which is a novella with similar themes of family and neglect, feminism, and coming of age. But just a quick heads up, content warning for domestic and physical abuse and child neglect.

the crane husband book cover

The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill

In a rural community in the near future, a 15-year-old girl is holding her family together after the death of her father. She cares for her young brother, Michael, while her mother, an artist, busies herself with her textiles and cheesemaking, and occasionally indulges in short-lived flings. But when her mother brings home the crane and insists that he be addressed as “Father,” our narrator senses trouble. Unlike the others, the crane doesn’t leave — and their mother begins to fade away, until the protagonist knows she must take action.

This is a very slim novella at just over 100 pages, but it seriously blew me away. I would have gladly spent 200 more pages in this world that Barnhill created, but the way she tells this story is so masterful that I didn’t feel like it was lacking at all. The storytelling feels really classic, so much so that I didn’t immediately pick up on the fact that this story is set in the near future, where farming conglomerates have taken over and drones and AI cultivate the fields. It was an interesting juxtaposition to the fairy tale elements and historical context of the story, and one I quite liked. I was intrigued by the character of the protagonist’s mother, who is a talented fiber artist who raises sheep and creates dazzling tapestries. She feels unreachable for most of the book, consumed with the crane, but there are moments where you get glimpses of who she was and who she might have been if she hadn’t fallen under his thrall. And the crane…oh, he’s menacing and harsh and he has a presence that looms in this story, even though he doesn’t fly into rages or actually hurt the children. He just hurts their mother and they’re forced to watch, which somehow feels almost worse. There’s the sense that if he did threaten the children physically, then maybe the mother would intervene…but no one intervenes, and it’s up to the daughter to take a stand.

This book is an allegory for domestic abuse, and how a parent can be so consumed by an unhealthy relationship that she could neglect to take care of her children. It’s uncomfortable and incredibly sad, but at the heart of this novella is a sister’s love for her brother, her will to protect him, and her love for her mother, even if she doesn’t understand her mother’s choices. This story has some interesting things to say about grief and family and art and sacrifice, and the ending wasn’t what I expected — but it’s one I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

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Happy reading!

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