CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number . . . . November 10, 2017
Villagers call the homeless, mute girl child “No Name” or “Wolf Girl”, but she does have a given name, and it is Aissa. Aissa, born on the island of Crete, was cursed with two extra thumbs “dangling from each wrist”. Her father, the Chief, cut off the extra flesh only to die soon after. Aissa is then snatched from her bed and offered anonymously to a new family only to lose her second mother, and her own voice, to raiders a few years later. Aissa struggles to make her way on her own, working as a slave, derided and shunned as the cursed “No Name”, her only possession being a stone bearing her birth name which means “dragonfly”. The young girl often watches the Lady priestess at the Sanctuary, and, in her twelfth year, she begins to recall some of her past, her name, and the fact that the Lady may have been her birth mother.
Approaching thirteen years, Aissa begins to take notice of the Bull King tribute. Each year, the Bull King takes two children from the island, a boy and girl in their thirteenth year. The children must dance in the ring with bulls, and those that survive will be returned to the island and the tribute removed. No one has ever returned. Desperate to escape her dire circumstances and beginning to realize she is not who she appears to be, Aissa focuses on the tribute as her means of escape and survival. Selected as a Bull King dancer, Aissa embarks on a journey of empowerment and rebirth that reunites her with both of her mothers and empowers her to once again find her true voice.
Wendy Orr’s Dragonfly Song is a work of beauty. From the stunning cover to the mythological imagery and lyrical prose, readers are drawn in and carried along on an intense ride. Since Aissa is mute for much of the story, her thoughts and observations are inserted in the form of short poetic phrases. This change in format does not remove the reader from the story in any way, and these pieces could, in fact, stand alone as beautiful poetry. Those with no knowledge of Greek mythology will benefit from the opening author’s note, but prior knowledge is definitely not a requirement to enjoy this book. Orr’s language is gripping and enchanting, and Dragonfly Song would make a perfect read-aloud chapter book for middle grade teachers. While the academic cross curricular subject areas are obvious, including history, mythology, religion, spirituality, even bullying, I enjoyed this story simply as a pleasure read. Readers will find that Dragonfly Song and its fearless heroine will stick with them long after the final chapter.
Cate Carlyle is a librarian at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, NS.