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The Crane Husband

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I was drawn to the description - a novella about a woman who comes home to her children with a boyfriend who is also a crane. ⁠Kelly Barnhill retells the Japanese folk tale The Crane Wife while using magic realism and folk horror to tell a story of abuse and neglect.⁠ I should note that I didn't find the story too gory or scary. It's more raw and unsettling. ⁠

The writing is lovely but heartbreaking. Told through the point of view of the mother's fifteen-year-old daughter who, since her father's death six years before, became the parent to her younger brother and mother. ⁠Her mother is a weaver and frequently absent in her workshop or bringing home stray men who last a couple of days before moving on. The crane boyfriend moves right in though and completely changes the family forever.

I really liked this book and I admire how Barnhill wove a story rich with symbolism. I just felt like something was missing and I didn't get as emotionally involved as I thought I would. I don't know why though. It could be because, inexplicably, The Crane Husband is set in a dystopic future and perhaps that is just one too many layers in this unusual story. ⁠All in all, it was a very suspenseful two hours of reading.

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The always excellent Kelly Barnhill retells the fable of the Crane Wife in a modern context, within the framework she often employs, that of a young woman being thrust into responsibility before her time. A 15-year-old girl lives with her parents and younger brother on what used to be family farmland, in an industrialized yet depressed town. After the loss of her father, her mother retreats into her dramatic and often disturbing artwork, leaving our protagonist to deal with the daily realities of living. While difficult, her life is livable until her mother brings home a crane, or is it a new man, who takes all of her attention, time, and resources. The parallel to domestic violence are clear but not overbearing, and the struggles of our unnamed protagonist make the subversive ending feel sweet and earned.

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The Crane Husband is something special. Every single element is taken seriously and accepted, and the world created within is so unique. It feels a bit We Have Always Lived in the Castle in setting, but with marks of the future and of myth that are surprising even while they are well-integrated. the crane who your mother is in love with has been hit by a farming drone and you found him while feeding the sheep. The text is riddled with little details that serve to expand the narrator and the world even when the story itself has an intentionally claustrophobic scope. Really enjoyed the pastoral small-town near-future myth, as well as the way that being trapped can come from internal responses to external factors - trapped by family that loves you, by a love that hurts you, by an economic system, by protective services. I’ll be thinking about this one for a while.

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Kelly Barnhill is rapidly becoming a favorite author for me, she manages to weave in magical and dystopian elements to stories like no other! I love this retelling of the Japanese folktale, The Grateful Crane so much. This was a great quick palate cleanser between some rather thick books. I read it in one sitting. The writing was gorgeous, the story sad and beautiful. Thank you so much to Macmillan-Tor/Forge, Tordotcom for the ARC of this one.

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A fifteen-year-old daughter fights to keep her family together and safe while her mother takes up with a large crane and focuses solely on him. Kelly Barnhill’s modern retelling of the Crane Wife tale is eerie, surreal, and heartbreaking. In this tale, the father has died, and the mother and their two children are living alone in a farmhouse, next to the farmland that used to belong to their family, but now belongs to the conglomerate. The daughter, the narrator of this story, is the one to whom the responsibilities of the household fall to. The mother is an artist - a weaver - and devotes her time to her art. The daughter takes care of her brother Michael, makes sure there is food on the table, and manages the sales of her mother’s woven art. This life is fine until the mother becomes enamored with a huge crane and brings it home. The daughter knows something is not right, and the story unfolds as she tries to figure out what exactly is going on and fights to break through to her mother. Barnhill’s writing is concise and meaningful; I felt the tension from the first line. This kind of story is not one I usually gravitate towards, but I’m glad I picked this one up.

TW: domestic abuse

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

4.5/5 stars

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“The Crane Husband” by Kelly Barnhill is layered with emotion and meaning. While this is not at heart a happy story, it is an emotional and compelling story. It takes a traditional story and changes that story into one with real emotion and heart. Telling the story of a 15 year old teenager, it details abuse, trauma, and neglect, a cycle that either continues or is broken. In this story, the girl finds a way to break that cycle. 

I found this compelling and heartbreaking, as we see the past inform the current life. And ultimately, while short, this story packs such an emotional punch, that it’s worth reading over and over. If you like fantasy and complex, emotional stories, I highly recommend this story by Kelly Barnhill. It will resonate with you for a long time, as you ponder the themes and ideas it evokes. I also think this story is one readers will love and layered with emotion.

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The Crane Husband is a brilliant retelling of the folk tale The Crane Wife and blends elements of magical realism, fantasy, and family drama. The story is told first-person by a 15-year-old girl who lives on a farm with her mother and little brother. Her mother is an artist and weaves tapestries that she sells to earn a living. The girl (unnamed throughout the book) has been the main caretaker in the house since her father died: she takes care of her brother, cleans and cooks, and also manages family finances. Her mom occasionally has male visitors in the house, but they don’t last for long, until she brings home a man-sized crane that she asks her children to call father. The crane is abusive towards her mom (major TW) and their lives, which were already challenging, gets much more difficult.
I love retellings and this one was no different. I loved that this book asks questions about the family roles. What it means to be a mother, a father, a sister. The part that fell a bit short for me was that this book left me confused at times. I love magical realism but this one felt a bit weird, even for me. I know the crane was a metaphor but even so, it left me with a lot of questions about what the author was trying to do with it. Please reach out if you have read this and would like to discuss.
This is a very short book and reads incredibly fast: I read it in less than a day. The writing is just beautiful and lyrical and I could not put it down. If you love magical realism and retellings of folktales, and are okay with some questions being left unanswered, you will be amazed with the writing and the powerful message that this small gem of a book entails. Big thank you to NetGalley and Tor Publishing Group for the Advanced Readers Copy. All opinions are my own.

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Kelly Barnhill’s The Crane Husband is, in many ways a companion piece to her longer work, When Women Were Dragons. In both, the desire of a woman to break free of the normal bounds of life takes literal form, but at great cost to others. In one case, they become dragons – at times on a mass scale. The Crane Husband, based on a Japanese folktale, applies the idea of transformation to one family that has a generations-long history of women leaving their families behind by sprouting wings and flying away. At least, that’s the interpretation of the women in the family. The community has a dimmer view.

In both stories a young girl is left, though under very different circumstances, to act as the responsible adult and raise a much younger sibling. When Women Were Dragons offers a brighter side to metamorphosis, as the dragons turn out to be a loving substitute family. The Crane Husband is a somewhat darker tale, as much about abuse as the determination of a young girl to survive and become her own person. It’s also about the transformative power of art and the darkness of obsession.


The Crane Husband is a brilliantly told story in novella length. Nothing is wasted, every scene is critical in building to the climax of the story, and the writing is filled throughout with memorable lines and insights about human nature. Kelly Barnhill has won her share of awards for children’s books, but I hope she keeps turning out such hauntingly beautiful fiction for adult readers as well.

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Kelly Barnhill does it again! In The Crane Husband, she manages to weave a poignant and moving tale of righteous female rage. Much like Barnhill’s other books, The Crane Husband makes you feel the characters pain, rage, will to change their future and, above all else, hope.

The main character is obstinate and resourceful. Her love is powerful. Her story is one of hardship and resourcefulness. It makes you FEEL and think. My favorite kind of tale.

If you love feminist tales about everyday heroines, then this is the book for you. It is poetic and powerful. If you have read other Kelly Barnhill’s works, specifically When Women Were Dragons, and you loved it, then you should definitely try this. If this is a time in your life where you can’t emotionally handle strife and stories that do not have the typical happily ever after, then you may want to wait to read this. Other than that, I think that everyone would be better for reading this retelling.

Kelly Barnhill is an auto read and buy for me. This book is just one more testament to her talent. The Crane Husband is relatively short, and I could have stayed in that world with the main character for much longer, but I am content with the ending. This book will be one that I recommend to all of my fellow readers.

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The Crane Husband is the newest work by award-winning author Kelly Barnhill. She’s known for all sorts of fantastical works, from middle-grade fairytales to feminist revenge stories. At first glance, The Crane Husband is a simple, gender-swapped retelling of the traditional crane wife folktale. In the original tale, it’s the crane who weaves her own feathers into her work. Here, the woman is human and weaves her strength and even blood into her art, growing weaker and weaker. The addition of her family makes things even more tragic.

Barnhill’s writing style is tight and her prose is sparse. There are incredible glimpses, however, into the strange, near-future setting. The narrative is almost unmoored from time; depressed midwestern towns and endless cornfields intertwine with surveillance drones and cloned crops. This confusion makes sense with our unnamed narrator. With everything going on, she doesn’t have time to explain the world around her. She can only focus on the problems close to home.

Some of these problems are those many children face: a neglectful mother, visits from a social worker, financial instability. But the social worker records each interaction with her glasses, and he mother neglects her for a human-sized crane that fills their home with violence. Barnhill strips love down to its ugliest parts and centers the all-too-real experience of being a child forced to grow up too soon.

Fans of surrealist fantasy and folktale retellings will appreciate The Crane Husband. It’s Barnhill’s darkest work, intense and all too real. There’s a lot of nuance in this slim novella, and it’s certain to stick with you.

The Crane Husband comes out on February 28 and is available for preorder now from your local independent bookstore or

TW: animal death, child abuse, death of a parent, domestic abuse, emotional abuse, gun violence, neglect, sexual content, terminal illness, toxic relationships

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An eerie retelling of a Japanese folk tale.

The 15 year old unnamed main character tries to keep her and her little brother alive and together as their mother is consumed by her art, madness, and her mysterious crane husband. I was not familiar with the folk tale that this novella was based on so I did go into it with no clue what I was in for; honestly I am so glad that was the case!

There is so much more at play here than the fantastical element, the eponymous crane while never actually speaking is a constant menacing presence in the lives of these kids from the moment he shows up. Their mother has been pretty indifferent for their whole lives her dad said it was because she was a weaver and weavers are magic, so the MC was taught by her dad as a child to balance the books, shoot a gun, set up a website, and basically be the adult in the house and she did all of that while raising her baby brother Michael.
Life wasn’t great before the crane showed up but at least it was ok, after he showed her mom was consumed by her relationship with him she demanded that they call him father, and every morning she would come downstairs with new bruises and cuts. Soon they have no more food in the house and no money in the bank and their mother doesn’t care.

It’s crazy to me that the story is only 128 pages long, there are so many elements woven throughout that make it feel like a much longer novel (in a good way). There are the fantastical horrors but even more so the mundane ones: abuse, coercion and child negligence.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tomdotcom for the digital ARC in exchange for my honest review, this one is a knockout!

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This was a wonderful blend of fantasy and horror. The subject matter is disturbing but very well executed. The exploration of domestic violence, child neglect, and growing up were very well done.

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THE CRANE HUSBAND by Kelly Barnhill

This is a mesmerizing and unsettling book, a blending of old myths with a dystopian future of no farmers, just machines. At heart it’s the story of a family, of a sister caring for her little brother, trying to save her mother, carrying adult responsibility as best she can, terrified of the giant crane taking over their lives.
I admire this determined young woman, impressed by her skills and loyalty and practicality. I was scolding myself for not remembering her name, but other reviews assured me she is unnamed, so I can stop looking. It’s a bold choice, reminding me of Curley’s unnamed wife in OF MICE AND MEN, only not a victim, more an Everywoman hero. The book was compelling enough to keep me from sleep, and the story is staying on my mind after, both signs of a powerful book.
This is a mature book, but teens (not children) would likely devour it.

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A moving retelling of the Crane wife story told in novella form from one of my favorite authors! I sped through this and felt for the characters deeply. Much thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an early digital copy in exchange for my honest review!

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*Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a early copy of this book for review, all opinions are my own*

3.5 stars

I started reading this book without knowing anything about it, and I think it was a great idea because I ended up liking it more.
You start reading thinking that the book will be one thing and it will surprise you as you read. The story holds you captive and you can't stop reading.
The ending is not the best but it is a very quick story to read, with a magnificent atmosphere and super good writing.
I recommend if you want to read something quick and intriguing!

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8 Books by Minnesota Authors We’re Excited for in 2023

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This novel, as Kelly Barnhill’s previous book, When Women Were Dragons, relies heavily on symbolism and lore. The writing style is direct and unflinching which makes the uncomfortable parts of the story bearable and somewhat detached. I enjoyed this book more than its predecessor possibly because it was much shorter in length and much meatier in content. Although the “bones” of the stories are very similar (unencumbered parent, neglected child, unusual transformation, etc.), The Crane Husband packs a more compelling punch.

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Thanks to Netgalley and Tor for the ARC of this!

This was a quick, creepy read. It was dark, handling topics such as domestic violence. Definitely recommend for fans of creepy retellings.

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A hauntingly beautiful story! I loved Barnhill’s use of language to evoke the setting - a near-future landscape of farming drones and government employees cheerfully announcing they’re recording you with their glasses - as well as the feelings of the characters. The magical realism was wispy and indistinct in a way that reminded me of Hoffman.

The author manages to convey so much of the suffocation and contortion of self experienced by women. The portrayal of motherhood as both joyful and burdensome was moving, as was the illustration of the adolescence as an in-between time. A time made more harrowing for a girl forced to grow up too soon. There was also an astute examination of domestic violence. To pack all that into a novella of less than 150 pages was truly remarkable. This was a delight to read!

* I received an ARC from the publisher and Netgalley, all opinions are my own*

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This is a stunning re-telling of the Crane Wife, told from the perspective of a 15 year-old, unnamed girl. She is running the household and taking care of her little brother, Michael, when her mother brings home a crane and calls it their "father". The girl soon discovers that the crane is also an abusive man that is ruining the tentative state of their little family and their lives. The ending is heartbreaking.

*Special thanks to NetGalley and Tordotcom for this beautiful e-arc novella.*

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