Haunting Lullabies

A review of Holly Bennett’s Redwing (Orca Book Publishers, 2012)

By Derek Newman-Stille

In her novel Redwing Holly Bennett follows the life of two young musicians who have both been the victims of loss. Rowan has lost his entire family to the plague and has survived. At age 15, he has been forced to search for employment, busking as a musician in small cities. Without even knowing it, he is haunted by the ghost of his sister, a lingering presence that seeks to lend a spectral comfort to his lonely existence.  Her voice is hidden to his own internal silence, the depths of loneliness within him, until he meets a young competitor for his musical busking, a boy named Samik.

Samik has also been the victim of loss, having to move away from his family when he defends his brother from a warlord who is trying to kill the boy and accidentally wounds the warlord. In order to escape his inevitable fate, Samik travelled to a new land, Prosper, a place that he considers backward.

These two boys, brought together by their love of music and by their experience of loss overcome cultural differences and the snobberies built into them by the cultural void between them. They find a common place, forging a family from a friendship. Bennett explores the ability of people to create a common voice through music, creating a sense of family and learning to move past the horrors of the past by exploring other possibilities of family, united by the musical voice. Rowan’s sister haunts the background of this narrative, her voice only given form through Samik (who has the gift of the Sight and can see spirits) who communicates the existence of Rowan’s sister’s ghost to him, and in times of peril when Rowan hears the spectral voice of his sister helping him to save his own life or that of his new family. The ghost of the past serves as a link to forge old family with new, playing with the notion that we create new relationships from the spirits of past relationships that haunt and comfort us.

Rowan learns that loss is not absolute, but that there can be a sweetness mixed with sorrow, a laughter and love within loss. This fantastic Young Adult novel allows the reader to really delve into the idea of loss and the comforts that we are able to find in loss – that combination of the music that becomes our voice for expressing sorrow and for self discovery and the new friendships and family that we create even when we are not intending to move on and connect with others. Bennett reveals to readers that grief can form a sort of language and that it can tie people together into new relationships.

The music of this narrative becomes a haunting lullaby weaving new and old, one place and another, and diverse people together.

You can find out more about Redwing on the Orca Book Publisher’s website at http://www.orcabook.com/productdetails.cfm?PC=1016 . You can explore more of Holly Bennett’s work on her website at http://www.hollybennett.net/ .

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