Cover Image: The Crane Husband

The Crane Husband

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Member Reviews

This gripping, haunting, lyrical novella gripped me from the first sentence to the last. It was amazing. Such horrifying beauty in the descriptions. This was my first experience with horror and fantasy, and it did not disappoint.

Inspired by a Japanese folklore, The Crane Husband will captivate you and leave you feeling a wide range of emotions. I was angry, grossed out, unnerved, and enchanted.

Fans of T Kingfisher will enjoy this novella.

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A tense and gripping story about a family haunted by generational trauma, domestic abuse, and artistic obsession. I'm not familiar with the folktale that this was inspired by, but it didn't impact my enjoyment at all. Barnhill did an excellent job building the horror in this story, so that even when I could guess the next narrative turn I was still enthralled. Very, very good.

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Thank you to Tor and NetGalley for giving me an advanced copy of this book for honest review!

The crane husband is an incredible retelling of the Crane wife. This retelling follows a 15 year old girl as she struggles to protect herself, her brother, and her reluctant to help mother. The book does a phenomenal job of using imagery to describe the horror of the situation. The protagonists desperation to protect her small family while still be a vulnerable and scared child is so poignant. This book was beautifully horrific and I enjoyed it immensely.

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The Crane Husband by award-winning author Kelly Barnhill is a retelling of a Japanese folk story, The Crane Wife. In this beautifully written novella, Barnhill explores generational trauma and abuse in a way that is haunting and evocative.

The story of the folktale is a warning against greed and how loving relationships can turn abusive in its presence. The Crane Husband is not merely a gender-bending version of that story. The story is told from the point of view of a 15-year-old girl who lives with her mother and brother on the outskirts of a farm. The story is set in the near future, where conglomerates have taken over farms and replaced farmers with drones. The mother is a talented weaver and earns her living by weaving beautiful tapestries. The story starts when she brings home a 6-foot-tall, mean-looking, and leery crane. She instructs her children to call the crane “Father.” The mother is completely enamoured by the crane, locks herself in her work room with it, and stops doing household work or spending time with her children. More disconcerting are the wounds and marks that start appearing on her body.

It is a heartbreaking story that shows how domestic abuse affects children and how they are robbed of their childhood. The social services are concerned about the main character and her brother, and the main character has to fight to put up a front of everything being normal. That’s because, despite the goodwill of the social workers, she knows the system will separate her from her brother, and that will affect both of them irreparably.

The novella also shows the cyclical nature of trauma in the women of a family. Our main character’s mother keeps telling her how the women in their family turn into birds and fly away. “On the farm,” she said quietly, “mothers fly away like migrating birds.” And fathers die too young. This is why farmers have daughters. to keep things going in the meantime, until it’s our time to grow wings. “Go soaring away across the sky.“

But are they turning into birds? Or are they just abandoning their family to sate their own needs, and the daughters are reinterpreting it in such a way as to prevent heartbreak? And that heartbreak leads them to believe they can “fly away” too.

The writing in this novella is simple yet beautiful. The simple prose serves the purpose of making the extraordinary seem ordinary and creating a dream-like effect. The horror aspect comes from the everyday horror of slowly losing a loved one and feeling helpless in the process.

This story is unlike anything I’ve ever read. This is not a mere retelling of a folktale; this is a story woven with metaphors and imagery and familial love, not unlike a rich tapestry itself.

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Beautifully strange novella retelling of The Crane Wife. Tackles heavy themes like death, abuse and neglect through a magical realism/fantastical lens. If you’re in the mood for something quick and super weird, this will do the trick.

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This book had potential, kind of. The beginning was a bit slow and confusing, but hopeful. The middle, well the author makes you think is just full of metaphors and a misguided plot- that you’re trying to figure out. But then you come to the end and think..huh?? What was even the point of X, or Y or ABC. Oh, yeah there WAS no point. It passed the time, but seriously- only recommend if you don’t need a story that has a any kind of wrap up or an ending with any sort of reason or rhyme.

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The Crane Husband is a novella about a small Midwestern family after the father’s death and the daughter is left to be the caretaker for her flaky artistic mother. The nameless teen’s role is to keep her little brother safe on their family’s farm that is no longer a farm (since the conglomerate has taken over farming) while her mother has affairs and sometimes remembers to make enough money for survival. However, one day the man their mother brings home to replace their father is a giant Crane - talons, beak, feathers. I don’t want to give away too much, because the book reveals itself beautifully.

This concept of a bird lover did throw me off at the start however the beautiful language of the book kept me engaged until the story itself drew me in. I found the novel moving and incredibly well written, sometimes re-reading lines just because I loved their lyrical quality. I do not know the Crane Wife which apparently this is based on but I will look into it now.

Thank you NetGalley and Tordotcom for the chance to read and review this, it was a pleasure.

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I had no idea that this short story was the retelling of the classic fairy tale of the Crane Wife. The setting in almost current time in the western portion of the US I absolutely loved the way the story was brought to life. The mythical story is magical and transcends modern realism to bring alight gender expectations in a modern approach. This story certainly won't be for everyone, however, anyone who loves mythology or fairy tales will enjoy this quick and easy read.

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Evidently there are ties between The Crane Husband and The Crane Wife (and/or The Grateful Crane). I am not familiar with the other books and had a desire to read The Crane Husband because I recently read The Girl Who Drank the Moon (also by Kelly Barnhill).

I typically do not read books similar to The Crane Husband, but I was drawn into this (rather short 128 page) story. Honestly, I felt like I just couldn't stop reading it, I was so drawn into the story. It is still on my mind and I'm not sure how I feel about it.

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to review the advance read copy of The Crane Husband in exchange for an honest review. Publication date is expected to be Feb 28, 2023. Also thank you to Kelly Barnhill the author and Tordocom the publisher.

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The Crane Husband is such a beautiful novella showcasing the strengths and weaknesses of being a woman. The mother in the story is living with generational trauma and the teenage girl, the main character, is breaking it! The words and phrases in this story are so beautifully written that I feel smarter and stronger for having read it. If you were a fan of Barnhill's When Women Were Dragons, this is a must read! I will be thinking about this one, and what it means to be an artist and a woman, for a long time.

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A dark fairy tale that's a reverse of the classic Japanese story The Crane Wife. This novella, readable in a sitting, is the story of a young girl whose mother has brought home a human sized crane which takes over their lives. The unnamed 15 year old and her younger brother Michael find themselves watching their mother disappear, increasing violence, and so on. The writing flows and the narrator is someone you'll feel deeply. Thanks to the publisher for the ARC. For fans of literary fiction.

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Source: DRC via NetGalley (Macmillan-Tor/Forge, Tordotcom) in exchange for an honest review
Publication Date: February 28, 2023
Synopsis: Goodreads
Purchase Link: Amazon

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Why did I choose to read this book?

The truth of the matter is that (1) I was drawn in by the cover, (2) I kept seeing it on several “most anticipated” lists, and (3) I was interested in a story about kids who have to endure messy parents (or parent, in this case). I found out later that it was also very short, and I could stand to read a few short books amongst all my giant fantasy tomes.

What is this book about?

A family lives on a farm that has been taken over by a corporation, so they can’t use the fields and only live in the farmhouse and the barn. There are two children, their mom, and until recently their dad, who dies of cancer. Apparently the mom brings lots of guys home and the kids know not to expect too much, that each phase will pass, but one day she come sauntering home with a man-sized crane: long legs, sharp beak, feathers and all but with a hat, shoes and spectacles too. It doesn’t seem like the crane will leave, and the kids have to figure out what to do.

What is notable about this story?

There is a crane. In this house. With this family. It transforms back and forth from man to crane and leaves feathers EVERYWHERE. When I tell you that I would have taken a baseball bat to that thing while it was a bird I am telling you the truth.

This story does not have a happy ending, it has a realistic ending.

It’s a very quick read, and not just because it’s short. The writing will keep you in suspense, keep you coming back for more to find out what happens next.

It’s fair to say that Barnhill depicts the extreme version of living for yourself, to the detriment of everyone around you. I’m all for having boundaries and taking time for yourself, especially so you don’t lose who you are after having kids, but if you DO have kids you have to do the bare minimum: feed them, clothe them, make sure they are safe and that they get an education. That’s what you agree to when you have kids. This could act as a cautionary tale for women who may not want to give up their creativity or work in favor of kids, maybe? That you have a responsibility to others as well as yourself if there are children in your charge? I don’t think we’re supposed to identify with the mom in this story, and in a world of feminist stories, this book sticks out as a sore thumb of obligation.

Was anything not so great?

I do not understand what was going on with the mom in this story. There is the myth of the crane wife who flies away as soon as the children are grown enough to take care of themselves, but since the dad dies early the wife ends up trapped with the kids. I think that the crane man is trying to help her learn how to turn into a crane so she can fly away like the farm women before her, but I’m not entirely sure. I felt like when the story ended, I hadn’t gone anywhere, and if it hadn’t been such a fast read I would have felt like I had wasted my time reading it.

What’s the verdict?

4 stars on Goodreads, but with the caution that it might be triggering for you if you had a less than stellar childhood. It’s a fast, compelling read that will leave you with more questions than answers. An excellent book for a seminar in women’s studies – you’ll get a very heated discussion!

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"The crane came in through the front door like he owned the place," begins Kelly Barnhill's "The Crane Husband." The six-foot-tall bird wears glasses and a hat. Her mother is disheveled, leaning her head against the huge feathered thing. Her fifteen-year-old daughter and son, who's six sit at the kitchen table eating a scavenged breakfast, mouths agape.

So begins this eerie short novel about a truncated family in a future world. The daughter--never given a name--has been running the family since her father died. The mother is a fiber artist whose work makes viewers fall on their knees or burst into song, depending on the person's experience. Each piece takes a long time to complete, so money management is vital. They are down to their last few dollars when her mother brings the crane home.

The teen tries to keep things moving forward, dodging school, a savvy social worker, and hunger. When she finally has to take action, you'll be surprised. This blending of fantasy, myth, practicality, and love is surprising throughout.

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Thank you to Netgalley and Tordotcom for the advanced reader’s copy!

The Crane Husband is a brilliant retelling of the Crane Wife myth, but it’s so much more than that. It’s an insightful novella (or would it be considered a short novel at just over 100 pages?) that explores the metaphorical - and literal - transformative nature of love and art. The narrator is the teenage daughter of a very disturbed woman who is trying to make sense of the unhealthy relationship she sees playing out between her mother and, yes, an actual crane.

Kelly Barnhill’s Newberry-winning book, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, is possibly my favorite middle grade novel of all time, so I went into this with high expectations. This book is completely the opposite of her middle grade works - it’s dark and without true restoration at the end. And yet, I still adored it. Barnhill is a master at using language to set a ton and to paint a picture. With this being such a short book, not a sentence is wasted. Every word packed a punch, and the overall result was a powerful story that asks difficult questions about love, sacrifice, art, duty, and family. This is the kind of book I can easily imagine discussing in one of my undergrad English classes; in fact, I could see it discussed in high school English classes and libraries as well. In fact, I wish I could attend a discussion on this novella, because I would love to hear other perspectives and interpretations!

This book is not for everyone, but if you love magical realism, subversive texts, retellings of myths and folktales, or just stories that make you really think, then I would definitely recommend it!

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I am utterly broken by this book.

Maybe it’s because I was the farm kid who left that life behind. Maybe it’s because I’m a parent, and I can’t help thinking that I’m not doing enough for my children. Maybe it’s because Kelly Barnhill just has a way with words that makes me want to weep.

The Crane Husband is a fairy tale set in the near future of the midwestern US. The protagonist, a young girl of fifteen, is doing her best to help manage what’s left of the family farm, raise her nine-year-old brother, Michael, and promote and sell her mother’s art. She misses her father, who died several years before, and wonders about the life she might’ve had if he hadn’t succumbed to illness.

Everything about her life changes drastically when her mother brings home a crane dressed in a hat and glasses and her dad’s shoes, telling her and Michael that they can call the crane “Father.” Soon, their mother’s life is upended by the arrival. Their mother has taken lovers in the past, but none of them stayed long. The crane is different, and not just because he’s a bird. She withdraws from her time with her children, leaving her daughter to cope and take care of Michael. She stops helping around the farm, and neglects her own health, all to please the crane’s whims. Our protagonist must learn the hardest lessons about what she’s willing to tolerate and what sacrifices can or should be made for family.

This novella is beautiful, and haunting in the best way. It’s a powerful retelling of the story of the crane wife, but it transcends the bounds of the original story and encompasses a new view of heartache, labor, gender expectations, and love.

The Crane Husband will be in stores on February 28th. You’ll want to read this one, but brace yourself. Nothing is what it seems. My thanks to both NetGalley and Tordotcom for an advance copy in exchange for a fair review.

This review originally appeared here:

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Kelly Barnhill knows how to write troubling mother-daughter relationships.

I’m just realizing as I write this review that our MC, who is a 15 yr old girl, is unnamed and actually I think the only named character is her brother, Michael. And kind of this guy who asked her to prom. I digress.

Farm girl is trying to keep her family afloat as her mom slowly unravels from the arrival of a crane/man. It’s full of weird sci-if vibes and is a short, fast read (128 pages).

Even though I don’t see myself reflected in MC, I very much felt this quote: “I was nothing like my mother. I was everything like my mother. Both at the same time.” I think many women can relate to this.

Thank you NetGalley and Macmillan for the arc in exchange for an honest review.

CW/TW: abandonment, death of a parent, domestic abuse, gun violence

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For such a short book, Kelly Barnhill’s The Crane Husband packed a punch. I enjoy adult fairy tales. This one had a dark, almost horror like dystopian edge. There are many layers and themes including parental neglect, spousal abuse, art, death, freedom. The fifteen year old protagonist is pragmatic and far-sighted as she cares for her brother and tries to care for her mother, an artist. I would have loved a longer story, however, the openness of the ending did fit the dark tone. I love reading anything by Kelly Barnhill and look forward to her next book. Count me in as a fan.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to read this arc in exchange for an honest review.

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Thank you NetGalley and Tordotcom for the chance to read and review the extraordinary piece, The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill!

At around 128 pages, The Crane Husband can no longer be called a novella. And yet this short novel weaves together a tale that other authors fail to do in 10 times that number of pages.

"Cranes are mean. Cruel, you know? Just ask any frog or fish in the pond. A crane is a predator just like any other predator—sneaky, and opportunistic. Not one of them would have the patience for weaving, or for beauty for its own sake. A crane would make someone else do it for him. A mouse maybe. Or a beautiful spider. He’d work it nearly to death, and then he’d eat it.”

One day, our unnamed narrators mother brings home a crane. Not a pet crane, but a crane the size of a man. While she imagines that the crane will leave soon, her mother adopts plenty of human and animal strays for short periods, it’s still odd to see it kiss her mothers neck and draw blood that her mother doesn’t notice. And things only get more intense from there on.

“It’s a sad fact about true love,” my mother told me once. “The sheep love me without ceasing, and that is why I am able to cause them pain—love is the path of least resistance, you see? It’s a lot more work to cause harm to someone who mistrusts you, or fears you. Or hates you. Love opens the city gates wide, and allows all manner of horrors right inside. This is why they don’t flinch when I come at them with something unpleasant.”

The family has always believed that mothers on the farm run away when their child turns 5 years old. The town has always believed that they are mad and run away with different men. Now that the farm is gone and our narrators father dead, the mother has remained; an artist with the practicality of a farmers daughter, when needed.

“Your mother doesn’t know these things,” he said, a note of pleading in his voice. “She has always been that way. She is an artist. Her feet barely touch the ground. I’ve been the one to keep her tethered to the earth. And now it’s your job. And you’re too young, and it’s not fair, but there it is.”

With that in mind it’s also important to remember that while this falls under magical realism, this is a story of abuse and neglect. There is a parentified 15 year old, and a 6 year old without much food. There is also the horrifying practicality at the end, the neglect of the school system, the way things play out. I honestly don’t know how to write about all of this in a way that does it justice.

To the mothers who flew away. And to those they left behind.

I also feel like The Crane Husband is a good way to sample things before diving right into When Women Were Dragons by the author as well. You’ll know what I mean when you’ve finished this book!

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I was so excited to get to read an ARC of The Crane Husband. It was so well written and I enjoyed the story, I was just waiting for a little bit more from it.
It’s definitely darker than I was expecting but the characters and story was engaging.
A short retelling that I would recommend.

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I love novellas, classic story retellings, and the dark whimsicality of Kelly Barnhill’s writing, so The Crane Husband was immediately put on my to-read list after it was announced!

I’m constantly amazed by authors who can write multiple genres well; I have loved the atmospheric fantasy worlds Barnhill has created for children and wasn’t sure how that would translate to adult fantasy/magical realism. I shouldn’t have been surprised that I loved her debut adult novel, When Women Were Dragons, last year.

While The Crane Husband is different in that it packs a lot into only about 130 pages, the writing style remains consistent in this next standalone adult story. There is magic in a world otherwise similar to ours. There is gritty sadness and a longing for something more. There are flawed characters who hurt others and characters who must be strong because they aren’t given any other choice.

Barnhill reimagines “The Crane Wife” in a heartbreaking and surreal way, blending horror and magical realism to put a new spin on this classic folktale. For a story so short, it has so much depth and symbolism. There are themes that include death, domestic abuse, parental duty and neglect, and how the system fails so many people in so many ways.

I am glad to have read this and cannot wait for her next new work, whatever genre it may be!

Thanks so much to Tor/Forge for the advanced readers copy!

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