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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dylan Farrow's Hush is a dystopian fantasy set in a preindustrial land that examines the ways in which the powerful can and do silence the powerless. All 17-year-old Shae wanted was to find answers to the mystery of her mother's murder. Instead, she finds herself unraveling a deep mystery within the walls of power that has implications for her entire country. This story emphasizes the importance of speaking truth to power, seeking justice, and believing in yourself. Shae is quite naive, but certainly admirable in terms of her tough and determined nature. Shae's friends show her loyalty and kindness, while her adversaries can be quite mean and cold even when they are sometimes helpful. Violence and scariness are limited, but include a bloody stabbing, escape from bandits and fires, and a vaguely described laboratory where human subjects appear to be killed for a particular, chilling goal. Talk of suitors, one awkward kiss, and unrequited crushes make up the romantic content of this book, and there's no swearing. A decent choice for teens who enjoy a bit of dark in their fantasy novels.
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What's the story?
As HUSH begins, Shae has mourned her brother's death from the Blot, an ink-borne pandemic disease, for five years. Though the ruling Bards have suppressed the Blot by banning reading and writing as well as specific words, stories, and items, when Shae's needlepoint creations begin to spring to life, she worries that she is the reason her town of Aster has long suffered in a punishing drought. When a group of Bards visits Aster to collect taxes, Shae seeks one out and asks him to cure her of the curse, but he refuses, sending Shae into despair. The next morning, she finds her mother dead with a Bard's dagger in her chest. The town Constable tells Shae she imagined the murder, that her mother died in a natural disaster. Unable to believe him, she sets out to find answers at the Bard's castle, called High House. Once there, she discovers that the danger is bigger than her mother's murderer, and she seeks to use her newfound talents to stop the evil threatening all of Montane.
Is it any good?
This ambitious debut is compelling, though it also suffers from a lack of thorough world-building and character development. What's so appealing about Hush is how this preindustrial land of Montane is able to reproduce so many of the fundamental modern conflicts we face in our world. Gaslighting and its inherent gender dynamics, the dangers of propaganda, and the oppression of the powerless by the powerful are some of the major themes that Farrow integrates without being too on-the-nose about it. The writing is clear, the pacing is appropriately fast, and High House, and several scenes outside it, are described exquisitely.
The world-building, and its system of magic, aren't well developed, though with a sequel on the way, these can be more fully fleshed out. Shae is a spunky, brave, and determined heroine, but she is also gratingly naive, so much so that readers may find themselves yelling at her to stop being so immature and trusting. Several secondary characters have potential, but they feel flat and take on too-predictable roles. Aside from these critiques, it's a decent debut YA novel and dark fantasy-loving readers will probably have enough to like to make them eagerly anticipate the sequel.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the country of Montane in Hush and our world compare. What are some issues we are facing as a country or planet that have parallels in Montane? What role do young people have in the book and in real life in addressing these issues?
Gaslighting, or manipulating someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity, is a recurrent theme in this story. I what ways do characters use gaslighting to attempt to stop Shae? How does she overcome their attacks on her sense of reality?
How does Hush compare with other dystopian or fantasy novels you've read? What are some elements you particularly liked or wished there were more of?
- Author: Dylan Farrow
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Activism, Magic and Fantasy, Friendship
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Wednesday Books
- Publication date: October 6, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 384
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: October 20, 2020
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