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Review: The Earth Hums in B Flat, Mari Strachan

Gwenni Morgan is caught between childhood and adolescence.  She reads voraciously despite her mother’s disapproval, flies in her sleep, and wants to be a real detective.  When one of the men from her small Welsh town goes missing, Gwenni decides that she’s going to try and find him.  Her investigation leads to unwelcome truths about Gwenni’s town, family, and life.  Those discoveries catapult her into an adulthood she may not be ready for.

This is a totally stunning coming-of-age story.  I was surprised by how very much I enjoyed it.  I loved Gwenni as a narrator.  She was completely charming in her naivete about her small town life.  I could see why the cover described it as heartbreaking though – with every coming-of-age, some innocence is lost, and it genuinely hurts to see this girl suffer even though it strengthens her in the end.  Though her discoveries and the past make some sense, it’s still painful to discover it – and witness the consequences – right along with her.  I loved the way she became a big sister figure to another character, a real manifestation of her growing maturity.  It’s whimsical but realistic at the exact same time.

The way that Mari Strachan portrayed post-World War II life in Wales was absolutely fascinating.  These regions are still feeling the effects of the war, as are the people.  Gwenni’s father carries a limp from his own service and there are a variety of other consequences that are discovered as time goes on.  It’s over but not forgotten.  The conflict between England and Wales was very interesting as well; one of Gwenni’s friends doesn’t speak Welsh and there is some tension over what language the characters choose and when.  I’m fascinated by this idea of Welsh pride in the face of continuous English dominance over the years.  It perfectly fits with the image of a small town resisting and at the same time embracing change – Gwenni’s mother longs for new appliances but is downright superstitious about her own child.

This book is written so well, too.  For me it was perfectly evocative of a twelve-year-old’s thought process while still retaining beauty and grace with some really charming passages.  One particularly memorable scene here that had me longing for toast with butter:

The toast is crunchy at the edges and hot, and the butter is yellow and salty and so cold I can see the marks my teeth make in it although it’s melting by the time I’m on the last two bits and drips down my chin.  I wipe my chin with my handkerchief and put a slice of bread on the fork to toast for Nain.

– p 226-7.

Doesn’t that sound surprisingly appealing?

I’m amazed that this was Mari Strachan’s debut novel.  I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.  I’ll definitely be recommending The Earth Hums in B Flat to anyone who is interested in the many topics it deals with, or even just after a plain great read.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from the publisher for review.

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