Two highly acclaimed and awarded writers, Zana Fraillon and Bren MacDibble, deliver an absorbing and thought-provoking novel encompassing elements of fantasy and science fiction. True to Bren MacDibble’s writing of climate change futures, The Raven’s Song is set in two future worlds impacted by climate change.
In a not-too-distant future world, a boy called Phoenix and his siblings explore the floodplains and bog near the home they share with their gran and aunt. Phoenix has a sixth sense, seeing things that others can’t—inexplicable things. When his brother Walter brings home a dead raven from the bog, Phoenix starts having unsettling visions and a sense that something bad is going to happen. But no one was prepared for what was to come as their world is devastated by a pandemic (not too unlike COVID-19).
One hundred years on, and the world is a very different place. People live simply, devoted to low-technology and low-pollution in closed communities that are made up of exactly three hundred and fifty kind, ethical folk, living on exactly seven hundred acres. In this world, Shelby and her best friend Davy, through a hole in the perimeter fence, discover a deserted, collapsed city. Its only inhabitant is an old man committed to protecting the city’s dangerous secret.
While Phoenix and Shelby’s worlds are as unique as their characters, they both share a sense of curiosity, kindness and courage. Their stories are told through alternating narratives which gradually intertwine until their lives are united, and the implications of the past provide insight and hope for the future.
At no time did I feel disoriented by the differing timelines, settings and viewpoints. Rather, both authors’ ability to weave, so seamlessly, the past and present lives of Phoenix and Shelby was one of the most engaging aspects of the novel, alongside the rich, evocative storytelling of both authors. Every chapter ended with such an intriguing hook.
The overarching themes of climate change and pandemics have unsettling parallels to the current plights of our planet. Interestingly, Zana Fraillon and Bren MacDibble started writing this novel together in 2019—pre-pandemic, eerily watching as fiction and reality blurred.
The novel may not be right for every child, particularly those who already have a heightened fear and anxiety relating to climate change and COVID-19, and it does include the sickness and death of children. However, the story also enables readers to process concerns about the pandemic and climate change and gives a strong sense of hope for a future world where ethics, kindness and humanity prevail.
With other strong themes such as resilience, friendship, family, community and survival, and the fascinating historical and cultural elements of raven mythology, folklore and ancient bog sacrifices, The Raven’s Song is a brilliant, intriguing page-turner for middle-grade readers 9+.
Teaching notes are available from the publisher’s website, encompassing the curriculum learning areas of English, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Sustainability.