Dragonfly Song - Wendy Orr

This was kind of a hard book to review, mostly because it almost falls between genres. It's classed as an upper Middle-Grade historical fantasy, which, that's not wrong . . .

 

I felt like it had more of a classic children's fiction feel to it. It's coming-of-age, and also a sort of epic hero's journey, straddling children's lit and YA in a way that's often done more by adult literary works. It touches on many 'big ideas': deformity, religion/society, acceptance, adoption, trauma, bullying, disability, purpose/identity, fate . . . The format is creative and unique. The story arc stretches from the MC's birth to age 14 and is told in omniscient third person varying with passages in verse.

 

I'm not sure if there was a meaning to the alternating styles; at some points, I thought the dreamlike verse passages were meant to show the MC's perspective in a closer, almost experiential or sensory format as an infant, a toddler, a mute child . . . but then that didn't necessarily carry through, so perhaps it was more to craft an atmosphere for the story.

 

The setting is the ancient Mediterranean, and the story picks up on legends of bull dancing. The world feels distinct, grounded and natural, without heavy-handed world-building. It's a world of gods and priestesses, sacrifice and death and surrender. Humans seem very small within it, and as a children's book, it's challenging rather than comforting. There's death and violence and loss, handled in a very matter-of-fact manner, so I'd recommend it for maybe ages 10+, depending on the child. It's not gratuitously violent or graphic, but it's a raw-edged ancient world where killing a deformed child, having pets eaten by wild animals, beating slaves - including children - and sacrificing people as well as animals to the gods is just part of life. 

 

I was very kindly sent a hardcover edition via the Goodreads Giveaways program, and the book production is lovely. It has a bold, graphic cover with some nice foil accents, a printed board cover (which I prefer for kids books due to the durability), fully illustrated internal section pages, and pleasant, spacious typesetting.

 

Confident, mature young readers will find this an engaging, challenging and meaningful read with an inspiring story arc and some lovely writing. Hesitant readers and very young readers will probably find it a struggle. I'd give it 5/5 as a product, 4/5 as a literary work and 3/5 as kid's entertainment.