Read for the 2011 YA Reading Challenge.
The Morgan family lost their mother in an auto accident, and not long after, their father, David, decides to take the two younger children, Peter and Becky, to Wales with him, where he’s been given a visiting professor’s position at the university. Jen, the oldest, is to stay with their aunt in Amherst, because she’s in high school, and they think it will be more disruptive to move her away for a year. But she’s miserable without the rest of her family, and before she knows it, has been invited to the stay in Wales for the Christmas holiday.
Becky has been doing pretty well in Wales, but Peter has been distant, and withdrawn, quite different from his normal self. He’s not getting along with their father, and Becky is worried about him. Slowly, with Jen there, they start to find out why.
Peter found a harp key that somehow is able to show him pieces of the life of its former owner, the bard Taliesin. The story comes to him in bits and pieces, and he knows that for some reason, he has to see it to the end.
Taliesin’s story is the fantasy portion of the book. It’s also a book about loss, and rediscovering how you fit into your family when a giant hole has been ripped into the fabric of that unit by the loss of one of the parents. It’s a really lovely story, helped immensely by the evocative landscape of Wales.
I couldn’t help but compare the landscape in this book to that in Susan Cooper’s The Grey King (interestingly, both of these books are Newbery Honor books). They’re both set in the same landscape – Cooper’s is a slightly more fictionalized version, but the same incredible mountains, and the Dovey river are in both, and the slightly mythological tinges are incredibly similar. The Grey King is why I’ve always wanted to visit this part of Wales, and this book has strengthened that desire.