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The Crane Husband

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The Crane Husband is a strange and magical tale of a bird who upends an entire family. I think I struggled with this one because I was expecting a more fairytale/magical realism aspect and found mentions of farming drones and genetically modified crops to be distracting. There is a lot of beauty in the strangeness of this tale, but I'm not sure I got the overall meaning, if there is one, to this book. Because of the length, I felt I didn't have a lot of time to digest all the details.

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The Crane Husband is a brilliant retelling of the Crane Wife where we follow a teenage girl, her younger brother and her mother who becomes the victim of domestic violence at the hands of a crane.

This story deals with strong themes of domestic violence, generational trauma and neglect. In just 120 pages we are presented with this lyrical, harrowing tale of abuse. It was hard to read, but I also couldn’t look away. I adored this.

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Thank you Netgalley for the advance reader copy of The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill in exchange for an honest review. I grew up with the story of the crane/woman who made masterpieces for the man. I have a signed illustrated version by Neil Gaiman that I cherish. This story takes that one and spins it. What if the crane was a man, and he was manipulative and mean? What if the woman had children and a life she wanted to leave? This was a beautiful, heartbreaking story that I was very impressed by.

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Another slim (118 pages) novel to add to your reading list. The mother of the story brings home a crane and despite the fact that he is a giant bird, it isn't difficult to understand the symbolism of an otherworldly interloper changing the family's dynamic. I'm not sure how to categorize this one. Is it magical realism? Is it horror? Well, the daughter is dealing with the demands of high school, so definitely horror.

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The Crane Husband is a retelling of The Crane Wife. It follows an unnamed teen girl and her little brother as they try to take care of themselves after their mother invites an anthropomorphic crane to live in their house. Their mother’s obsession with the crane leads her to neglect her children, lose all of her money, and completely lock herself away from the world to spend all of her attention on the crane. As the narrator watches the crane abuse her mother and destroy her household, she eventually realizes that it’s up to her to save her family from the crane.

I think this book is so wonderfully written. The descriptions of the crane always felt like they were intentionally a little vague, and I believe the air of mystery surrounding the crane’s character made it feel especially intimidating and malicious. The physical indications of the crane’s physical abuse towards the mother are explicitly and frequently described (do be careful about reading this if you have difficulty with stories about domestic violence!), and that also played a major role in making me feel like the crane was evilly ripping this family apart. The main character is resourceful and strong when taking care of herself and her brother, but Kelly Barnhill did a great job at showing just how difficult and terrible it was for the 15 year old narrator to take on the weight of protecting her entire family. It’s impressive to me that this book tells such a descriptive and skin crawling story in so few pages.

Unfortunately I found the ending of The Crane Husband entirely unsatisfying. I love books with open endings, but this one was a little too open. It also felt like a very abrupt. I think that with just one or two more chapters this story could be significantly better than it is. But as it is, once I finished the book my response was “That’s it?!?!” The plot felt like it should have led up to something more interesting than it did.

I recommend The Crane Husband for a very quick read that’s written well. If the main thing you look for when you select your books is the experience of taking in some beautiful writing, I think you’ll enjoy this. But if you need a satisfying and/or closed ending to be able to enjoy a book, I think you should stay away from this one.

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Trigger warnings: Abuse, child negligence, death/loss, grief and depression

I loved Barnhill's lyrical prose. The book had an amazing balance of worldbuilding and character building, still keeping us moving forward through the plot. The plot was very simple and straightforward, which helped keep everything grounded. For as short as it was, it still managed to balance all three aspects of storytelling really well.

Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for the ARC.

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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. No major spoilers enclosed.

The Crane Husband is from the perspective of a fifteen year old girl in a Midwestern town, whose mother is an artist. While her mother weaves in their barn, the protagonist looks after her six year old brother Michael and manages the household. On its own, it’s a tale of a parentified teen making the most of her home life. And then the crane arrives.

This book was a profoundly unsettling retelling of the crane wife. The crane that the protagonist’s mother brings home is a troubling, disturbing figure that stalks around the home. He is a quintessential predator looming in the corners of the property and changing stable systems into chaos. I have rarely read a book that captures, so intimately, the horrors of being a child in a home where one’s parent has brought a monster into one’s midst.

The protagonist’s single-minded focus on protecting her brother, was heartbreaking and relatable. For every stable system in their house that crumbles under the weight of the crane husband, it’s a fracture on the reader’s heart as well. The resolution that the protagonist comes to when this system can no longer be maintained is both heroic and tragic.

I will be haunted by this story for a long time. A deeply unsettling triumph of a book for Kelly Barnhill.

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Fantastic story telling from a very accomplished author. Mystical and heart wrenching - a truly fantastic read. Thank you to #netgalley for the opportunity to read advance copy

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A fifteen-year-old girl and her six-year-old brother live with their artist mother in a dystopian midwest, where drones farm the fields and giant birds can drop by for dinner. Their mother seems to be having an affair with a malevolent crane, who leaves marks all over her body and feathers all over the house. The girl, worried about her mother and the decreasing supply of food in the house, tries to get the crane to leave them in peace.

What a WEIRD and compulsively readable novella! It's unsettling in the best kind of way. The story is very loosely based on the folktale of the crane wife, a tale that is detailed in this book, so you don't need to know it beforehand. I was more moved by this short narrative than I expected to be — it uses magical realism to dive into some of the grittiest, ugliest parts of humanity. I highly recommend giving it a read!

Thank you to Kelly Barnhill, Macmillan-Tor/Forge, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this ARC.

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Melancholy and tender, this novella presents a retelling of "The Crane Wife" with relatable, flawed, heartbreakingly imperfect characters and a plot driven by magical realism. I loved the author's other books- When Women Were Dragons was in my top five last year and my daughters and I lapped up The Girl Who Drank the Moon the year it won the Newberry. I think this novella stands in contrast to previous works because it lacks the thread of hopefulness. It's an increadibly compelling story of a teenager taking on the mantle of parent and caretaker and the characters are entirely believable, even given the magical realism of a woman becoming involved with a crane. The writing is incredible, the story is well-told, but I longed for a thread of hope that I was unable to find. It's definitely worth reading, and it's a very interesting contrast to the original folk tale which will undoubtedly generate classroom or book club discussion.

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I could not put down this gorgeous, unsettling novella. The Crane Husband combines magical realism and a touch of dystopia in a very loose retelling of the folktale “The Crane Wife.” Kelly Barnhill’s novella is narrated by a 15 year old girl, who is older than her years after taking care of her young brother and artist mother following the death of her father. She is used to men coming through their house, but one day her mother brings home a crane, who unlike previous boyfriends, is there to stay.

The storytelling is extremely dark and compelling, but for me the setting is the true star. Barnhill set this book in a Midwest farm town and somehow created a place that feels slightly futuristic and yet absolutely timeless. It’s the perfect setting for a grim fairytale about art, family, abuse and freedom.

BRB, I gotta go read Barnhill’s When Women Were Dragons.

Thanks to Macmillan-Tor/Forge and Netgalley for an advance copy. This book will be published on February 28, 2023.

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I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

I heard about this book because I love The Decemberists (music band) and one of my favorite songs of theirs is The Crane Wife (Parts 1 and 2), which is based on the folklore story of the Crane Wife. When I heard someone had written a retelling of this folktale, but called the Crane Husband, my curiosity was piqued instantly, and I went to see if NetGalley had it available to read. They did, and they approved me, and that was honestly all I knew about this before I read it.

I didn't realize this was a novella until I started it, and I really appreciate that it is a novella. This is beautifully written and every word is intentionally chosen to pack a lot into the 120ish pages. It is also incredibly weird, depressing, haunting, and magical realism.

Essentially, our narrator, a 15 year old girl (who I didn't realize was a girl until maybe halfway through) shows us what happens to her family when a crane comes to the family farm and starts a love affair with her artistic mother. The relationship between the crane and the mother is abusive - and we see some of the damage he inflicts on the mother both physically and emotionally. We see our narrator trying to hide from protective services and keep her younger brother safe. We also see how resourceful our narrator is in trying to keep the family afloat while her mother navigates being in love, being abused, and being a mother.

Overall I liked this; however, I think where I struggled a bit was trying to picture the timing this was supposed to be set in. It's clear we are in the future in America (drones are tending to farmers, there aren't people who till soil anymore, the glasses the school counselor wears have a recording device built into them there is an internet storefront for auctioning artwork). But there were also things that felt very 1920's dustbowl era to me in the way the farm was described, the way the narrator and her biological father interacted, and the way the children walked to school. The discussion of prom and the bonfire party felt very 1950s/1960s. And maybe that sort of unsettling feeling of not really knowing "when" the story takes place actually adds to the bizarre atmosphere and theme of impermanence.

I give it 3 stars because of the beautiful writing and being a well executed retelling, but dock it points because I'm not sure it will be overly memorable or something I would want to re-read in the future. I would definitely read other books written by Barnhill in the future.

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Incredibly impactful but also incredibly weird.
The writing of this short novel was impeccable. Every word was dripping with sadness and foreshadowing, which such a work of art considering the brevity of this novel. So, considering the great writing why didn't I enjoy this more? I would say it came down to the magical realism aspect. I struggled with the whole idea of sleeping with a crane and the whole concept made me feel off kilter. Perhaps, this was intentional.

Thank you to Netgalley and MacMillan-Tor for allowing me to review this arc.

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I thought the book was well written and a good retelling of the Crane Wife. The story was a bit darker than I was expecting, but still enjoyable.

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REVIEW: The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill

When I saw that the author of one of my 2022 faves, WHEN WOMEN WERE DRAGONS, was releasing a novella this year, I knew I had to get my hands on it.⁠ Thank you to @netgalley and @tordotcom for the early e-ARC copy.⁠


In this futuristic retelling of "The Crane Wife", a teenage girl wakes up to her mother bringing home a new partner - who happens to be a crane. Or is he a man? As the mystery unravels and our unnamed narrator tries to navigate this new world to take care of her brother and her mother's business selling tapestries, she is forced to grow up faster than was fair will do whatever it takes to protect her family—and change the story.

We all know I love a folktale retelling and I enjoyed the futuristic setting and female focus of this one. In this parable that warns us about the signs of domestic violence, Barnhill ties you emotionally to one girl trying to hold her family together and keep her brother safe.

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“The more you love someone, the more dangerous to you they become. The more you love someone, the more willing you are to show them your throat.”

The Crane Husband is a retelling of and new spin on the Japanese folktale, “The Crane Wife.” While this was an interesting riff on a classic, well-known story, I found it unrelentingly sad. Our perspective character is an unnamed, fifteen year old girl living with her artist mother and six year old brother, Michael. This girl has been the caretaker of the family since her father passed away, ensuring that her mother’s art sold so that there was money in the bank and food on the table. Their mother isn’t a bad mother, but she is flighty and absorbed in her art and the affairs she has so often. But none of these romantic entanglements have any real impact on the lives of the family. That is, until the crane comes to stay.

“Art, true art, exists only to transform. And it is only truly art when it does transform. The maker. The viewer. Everyone.”

The day the crane walks in on their mother’s arm, the family’s lives start falling apart. Their mother is now consumed by the unhealthy, abusive relationship to the point of neglecting the sale of her art and the care of her children. As our perspective character does her best to keep herself and Michael fed, their mother falls further and further into her “love” for the crane and into one particular piece of art that consumes both her and the crane, as she tries and fails to get it right. Child services is knocking at the door, and our main character will do anything to keep herself and Michael from being separated.

“Love opens the city gates wide, and allows all manner of horrors right inside.”

This is a very deep tale, impeccably well written. Topics like abuse and neglect in all their guises, toxic relationships, the vulnerability of love, and the transformative nature of art are all presented and discussed in lovely ways. We see how love can make it impossible to leave a situation, and yet how sometimes is not enough to make one stay. The family folklore here is that women tended to only stay long enough for their children to fend for themselves before flying away, but how that paradigm had shifted when our perspective character’s father had died too young. There’s some subtext about the roles in which we see ourselves and whether others will remember us in the way we want to be seen, or if we over-inflate our own importance in the lives of others. In other words, there’s a lot of food for thought here.

“She said it was a sin to butcher an animal that you didn’t love first.”

So why, when this is an interesting and philosophical story well crafted, did I not enjoy it more? It goes back to the unrelenting sadness I mentioned earlier. The mixture of maudlin and whimsical tones reminded me of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I love. But that story has moments of light relieving the dark. There were no such moments here. This made for a story that felt far too heavy, especially considering the brief page count. I was left feeling utterly bereft. If there was hope in these pages, it never rang true enough to me to make a lasting impression.

“What’s the point of a thing? It doesn’t live or breathe or love. The only value we must keep close to our hearts is the living.”

The Crane Husband is a creative, powerful new take on a familiar tale. Many people are going to absolutely love this story, and might even find a type of catharsis or healing in its pages. I am unfortunately not among that number, but I still respect what Barnhill crafted here. While this novella might not have landed well for me, I look forward to reading Barnhill’s middle grade work.

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The crane husband is a difficult book to review for me. I had been thinking about what to write for a while. It was definitely a powerful and heartbreaking story to read. I liked the magical aspect too. But when I finished the book I still expected more. I really enjoyed Kelly Barnhill's writing. I don't know that I liked it more if this book was a little bit longer. For me, it was a nice story to read. But I think it will find the right reader for sure.

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This was really wild. I hadn't ever heard the Crane Wife fable that this is inspired by, but I really enjoyed it. It was heavy and emotional so definitely check trigger warnings. It is a pretty quick read. This was my first experience with Kelly Barnhill, The Girl Who Drank the Moon has been on my TBR to read to my kids forever and it's moved to the top of my list after reading The Crane Husband. Her writing is beautiful!

Thank you NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for the ARC of this book.

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The best two words to describe The Crane Husband: Pragmatic. Unapologetic.

A fifteen year old girl should never be left to raise her brother, manage the household, the finances, and take care of her mother. But that’s what she does.

The Crane Husband is a retelling of The Crane Wife. I don’t know the original story, but Barnhill's story is reminiscent of “When Women Were Dragons”. In both stories, the main character is much too young to grow up so soon, to take on adult roles because the parent refuses to parent.

This is a quick read that both angry at the mother for her neglect and yet a bit sympathetic toward her due to the tone of the narrator. I was saddened by the ending but not surprised. After all, she had to protect her brother and survive herself.

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The story is told from the perspective of a 15 year old girl whose artistic mother brings home a crane who changes their family’s life. It was poetically written in a way that made you not sure if you were reading a fantasy or a tragic story of abuse. I’ve read and loved the author’s work before and this was no exception. It may be a short story but it will leave a big impression.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book for an honest review.

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