A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Secret of Nightingale Wood is a debut novel by Lucy Strange, a British author with a flare for both page-turning suspense and the beautifully turned phrase. The spunky and likable protagonist, Henry, is a 12-year-old girl. Set near the seaside in England just a year after World War I, the book follows a family that's suffered an acute loss, and the mom's spiraling into a breakdown. A cruel and corrupt doctor prescribes a strong barbiturate to sedate the mom, as well as morphine for Henry, so parents might springboard into discussions about prescription drug abuse. Throughout the book, Strange weaves in names of classic children's books, positioning this book in that company, and encouraging a love of classic literature.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
In THE SECRET OF NIGHTINGALE WOOD, Henry (short for Henrietta) and her mom, dad, and baby sister move from London to a new house in the country. There's been a tragedy in London, and we get inklings that Henry's older brother, Robert, has died. Henry's dad leaves the family to work in Italy, leaving his distraught wife in the care of a new doctor, who heavily sedates her. Will Henry’s mom heal? Will the doctor move her to the frightening asylum? Though left alone to navigate her own emotional pain, Henry knows she also has to act to save her family.
Is it any good?
With many of the earmarks of a classic, this book set in 1919 just after World War I is that rare bird: a literary page-turner. The Secret of Nightingale Wood hooks us with suspense -- who's the witch in the woods, what happened to Henry's brother Robert? -- while wowing us with its exquisitely crafted language. Henry "walked into the dark jaws of the forest," where she sees "a wraith of smoke," and where "the sunlit leaves trembled with secrets." This family has secrets, as does the house they move into, and the woods surrounding it, and readers are held rapt as author Lucy Strange uncovers them bit by bit.
Strange weaves in references to classic books, seamlessly connecting them to the plot without losing momentum. And because the book's set in 1919, it has some charming period details (Lucy wears pinafores), making it feel like one of the classics itself. The stakes are high as Henry fights the doctor to keep her mom and baby sister, though the doctor can sometimes seem a bit villain-like. And the drugs he prescribes add an extra edge, given the current opioid crisis in the United States. The themes of grief and mental instability can feel dark for the age group, but as Henry takes brave steps to save herself and her family, we're absorbed in the drama and moved by her plight.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the historical setting in The Secret of Nightingale Wood. What details in the story set it in 1919? What details set it in England? Can you relate to the story today?
Why does Henry feel she has to save her mom and sister? What would you do if a doctor wanted to send your parent away?
Why did Henry's mom have a breakdown? Is the treatment of mental illness different today? What sorts of treatments do you know about? What kind of treatments sound like good ones to you, and why?
- Author: Lucy Strange
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Book Characters, Brothers and Sisters, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Chicken House
- Publication date: October 31, 2017
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 304
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: April 6, 2020
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