The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn, by Kate Gordon
This enchanting story for middlegrade readers is at once both uplifting and heartbreaking. It has the dreamy flow and rhythm of a fairytale, with writing that is at times beautifully lyrical. Many times I paused to linger over a sentence that seemed rich with meaning and colour.
It is impossible not to almost immediately feel a rush of empathy for our lonely narrator, Wonder Quinn, who each school year yearns for a true friend, but is ignored by the other girls at Direleaf Hall. She sleeps in a dusty attic, her only company the loyal but moody crow Hollowbeak.
But then new student Mabel sits next to Wonder in the classroom, and she is full of colour and spirit. The two girls find themselves drawn together, drawing strength and support from each other.
It is so difficult for us as readers, however, not to feel the same twinges of apprehension that Wonder often expresses - fear that the friendship may not endure, that somehow the bond will be broken. The friendship between the two girls feels like something wonderfully fragile and precious - like each moment might be the last.
As the two girls engage in crossing items off Mabel's intriguing wishlist, it soon becomes clear that they both carry their own dark secrets - secrets that threaten to tear them apart.
This is a lyrical enchanting story that shimmers with a beautiful darkness, from its exquisitely designed cover to the intriguing tale within.
The unique shadowy black and white illustrations by Rachel Tribout, with their twisted black trees and moonlit skies, perfectly enhance the magical feel of the story.
I would recommend this book for readers aged 8 upwards - the text font is large and easy to manage for confident independent readers. I also think this would make a wonderful read aloud book - with the layered narrative offering the potential for group discussion around themes of loneliness, grief, bullying and being true to yourself.
This book made me think of Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic A Little Princess, whose lonely but kind and compelling narrator Sara Crewe stays with you long after you finish the story. Wonder Quinn is another such character who will find her way into your heart, and who you will think about long after you finish reading this story, which - ultimately - shines with infinite love and hope.
Published by University of Queensland Press