Sunday, August 19, 2018

Book Review: "Our Homesick Songs" by Emma Hooper

This book. My heart is full.

The Canadian fishing town of Big Running is nearly empty. Only a few families remain, and their numbers dwindle by the day. This has been happening ever since the fish disappeared—no one knows why it happened, but those whose lives depended on fishing or the town in one way or another have found new jobs, new homes, and left.

Finn Connor and his family are among those who have stayed, but his parents, Aidan and Martha, who grew up in town, have begun working alternate months at an energy site up north in Alberta, adding more strain to their marriage and the family unit. But 11-year-old Finn is determined to find a way to save the town and his family at the same time. Aided by stories told by his elderly accordion teacher, who is the only person remaining in Little Running, the town across the river, Finn slowly but surely devises a plan, with great ingenuity and the heart that only a young child can have.

Meanwhile, Cora, Finn's older sister, spends her days decorating the abandoned houses in town by turning them into different countries. One house becomes Italy, another England, a third becomes Mexico. But once her creativity and her supply of houses wanes, Cora realizes what she wants more than anything is a chance at a normal life, with both parents together, with friends, maybe even a dog. She comes up with her own plan, one more dramatic—and one which will take her farther—than anyone can expect.

The narration in this exquisite book shifts between the present and the past, tracing the events which brought Aidan and Martha together and the challenges they faced when they were younger. From the tragedies faced by those living in a fishing town to the romantic temptations which test a marriage, from the fantasies we weave when we are young to the fantasies which bring us through our days, Our Homesick Songs is a book about family, love, bravery, keeping the faith, the importance of music, and its contributions to the power of memory.

"They didn't have cameras then, so they didn't have photos of home, of where they were from. And most sailors and explorers were rubbish at painting, that's why they were sailors and explorers, not painters, so the only, the best, way for them to remember home was through singing, through the songs and tunes they knew from home. When they were homesick, when they needed to remember where they were from, they could sing to see, to remember. They could close their eyes to block out where they were, and sing and remember where they used to be."

I absolutely loved this book. It felt like a look into a magical place, the kind of town that doesn't exist anymore, even though sadly, towns like this exist all over. The characters were unbelievably special and beautifully drawn, and the story captured my heart from the very first page. Often when a story shifts between past and present, I find one segment weaker than the other, but both stories grabbed me, and I would have been happy reading a book which focused on just one of them.

I've never read any of Emma Hooper's books, but her talent absolutely blew me away. Her voice and her use of imagery was spot-on. At times her style is very spare, so it took a little getting used to, but the whole story was just amazing. If I could have, I would have read the entire book in one day—as it was, I stayed up late because I desperately had to finish it!!

This may not be a book for everyone, but it is one I won't soon forget.

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