Epeolatry Book Review: The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill


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Title: The Crane Husband
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Genre: Folk Horror
Publisher: Tor Publishing Group
Release Date: 28th February, 2023

Synopsis: A fifteen-year-old teenager is the backbone of her small Midwestern family, budgeting the household finances and raising her younger brother while her mom, a talented artist, weaves beautiful tapestries. For six years, it’s been just the three of them—her mom has brought home guests at times, but none have ever stayed.

Yet when her mom brings home a six-foot tall crane with a menacing air, the girl is powerless to prevent her mom letting the intruder into her heart, and her children’s lives. Utterly enchanted and numb to his sharp edges, her mom abandons the world around her to weave the masterpiece the crane demands.

In this stunning contemporary retelling of “The Crane Wife” by the Newbery Medal-winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, one fiercely pragmatic teen forced to grow up faster than was fair will do whatever it takes to protect her family—and change the story.

A book comes along, its uniqueness apparent from the very first page. And if we’re lucky enough, the author has hidden something in plain sight amongst the words of their brilliant story, something that will keep you second guessing to the very end. This is the case with The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill. This gem is such a trip of harsh, at times ugly reality, mixed with folk horror, that you’ll struggle not to finish the book in one sitting. 

The Crane Husband follows the story of an unnamed teen, her younger brother, and her acentric artist-mother. The mother is a bit of a lost soul after the death of her first husband and the teenage daughter, our narrator, is left with the burden of taking care of the house and paying the bills whilst making sure her little brother is clothed and fed. This dysfunctional unit is going as well as can be until the mother meets a strange, unfriendly man/crane whose main focus is the mother, damn anything and anyone else. Things quickly fall apart with food and money becoming scarce, the school on the teenage daughter’s back for her continued truancy, and domestic violence and neglect stomping its ugly ass feet across the household’s threshold. The boyfriend is not only revoltingly nasty, but something other worldly—just what that is… You will need to read the book to find out. 

The Crane Husband is a brilliantly sad, yet effortlessly enthralling tale, and Barnhill’s writing is nothing short of amazing. Her words are like rainwater, one drop flowing perfectly after the other, her story easy to follow and captivating. The mother is such a frustrating read, her only focus being the new man in her life (to the detriment of her young family). The crane is a pig of a character who the reader will detest the moment he enters the story. The teen daughter is a strong, likeable character, her dedication to keeping her family together admirable and heartbreaking. The young brother is a sad read, too young to comprehend the danger he is in and too innocent to see the pitiful ending the family is spiraling toward. The ending is nothing short of jaw dropping completely unexpected. 

Heartbreaking, infuriating, and one you will wholeheartedly submerge yourself in, this book is a must read for lovers of dark fiction/folk horror.


Available from Amazon and Bookshop.

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