Monday, January 2, 2012

A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond

I've decided I like to start the new year off with a young adult novel.  Books and Christmas are always entwined together for me; my best memories of Christmas are lying under the tree reading a book.

This was a book I would have loved as a kid--but I didn't know about until last year, when my friend C-Joy told me it was one of her favorite books as a youngster.  Whaaat?  Never heard of it!  I promptly ordered it at my bookstore, bought it, and pecked away at if for months.  I wasn't ready to sit down and really pay attention until just a few days ago.   A  few days off work, very cold and super windy weather, and I was set to travel to Wales and become entranced by the story of Taliesin, a great bard long known and beloved for his songs.  When I say long known,  I mean centuries.

The story starts with the arrival of Jen, the eldest child in a family that has lost their mother.  Her sister Becky and brother Peter have moved to Wales with their father for a year while David, their father, works at a local university.  Peter has found a old tarnished harp key on the beach and wears it around his neck.  What he hasn't told anyone is that the key warms up, he hears singing, and sees visions of the life of Taliesen and the history of the surrounding area .  What the heck is happening to Peter?  Is he imagining things, or is what he sees really a glimpse into the past?

It was refreshing to read a book that was written long before cell phones, texting, and computers were mainstream.  Getting out of a pickle isn't so easy when you can't call for help on a handy cell phone.  You are forced to rely on yourself.  And that's just what Peter, Becky, and Jen do as they roam the countryside exploring the beauty and wildness of Wales.

A large part of this story is about family.  Jen has stayed home in Amherst with her aunt and uncle, and has been separated from the rest of her family until the Christmas holiday in Wales.  Peter is angry at his father for taking them away from all that is familiar and putting in them in a harsh place where he's forced to learn Welsh in school and cannot fit in and doesn't want to fit in.  Becky, the youngest, is a sweet kid who's open to new adventures and only wants to be a family.  David, their father, is preoccupied with his job, and at a loss as to how to heal his family.  Much of the story is about all four learning to live together again, work together, and become a family without their mother.

I really enjoyed this story, and I think I liked it better reading it as an adult.  Much of the Welsh words and names may be confusing to some.  I get that.  It was a bit confusing to me, but you just go with it!  I am now interested in Wales.  Yep.  I'd go there in a second.  The mystery of the harp key, and the glimpses into the past Peter experiences ( and soon friends and family, too) are fascinating and keep the story moving along to a satisfying conclusion.  But is does leave you to ponder:  Do artifacts belong in a museum, or do they belong with the place they came from?

my rating:  4/5

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