By Erin Bow
Available now from Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic)
Sometimes I wonder about myself. Somehow I was surprised that a book named SORROW'S KNOT, a book about a young woman who binds the restless dead, was often creepy and sad. I read it right after finishing two cute books about magic kids who have adventures, and I think I was just expecting more of the same. SORROW'S KNOT is the best kind of different.
Otter, Kestrel, and Cricket are best friends on the cusp of adulthood. Something is going wrong, however. Otter's mother Willow, one of the tribe's two binders, is going mad. Otter always knew she would grow up to be a binder, but her future is beginning to look uncertain. Otter's journey to find her place and master her power is but one of the journeys in this book, however.
I find that I don't want to say too much. SORROW'S KNOT is a lovely book, and I think my confused expectations made it even better. I could often see Erin Bow setting the pieces up, but it was so lovely to see them fall into place. I fell headfirst into SORROW'S KNOT and let it tug on my heartstrings willy-nilly.
I will say that I particularly liked the romance in SORROW'S KNOT. For one thing, there are three best friends and no love triangle! Kestrel and Cricket love each other, and Otter is totally cool with that. (In fact, she finds it a little odd, because there are few married couples in their community. Men often move on because they have no binding power and are vulnerable to the dead.) When Otter does meet someone, they grow close due to desperate circumstance, but I didn't feel that the relationship proceeded too quickly.
I also loved the setting. There are not that many novels that draw on American Indian folklore. I thought Bow did a good job creating a fantasyland not entirely based on European culture. I liked that the main tribe was imperfect, but that they were trying to do their best to keep everyone safe. I liked that the matriarchal society Bow set up allowed her to focus on many different relationships between women. I like that there were other tribes who had very little in common with Otter's tribe.
I also loved the emphasis on story. I love stories about story, and SORROW'S KNOT is no exception. It's unsurprising that stories become important, given that Cricket is a storyteller, but they're used in such wonderful ways. And it meshes so well with the theme about secrets. After all, secrets are stories we don't tell.
SORROW'S KNOT is a wonderful book. And despite the darkness and sadness, it remains appropriate for kids. I might not hand it to a particularly sensitive or easily scared reader, but it is suitable for both middle grade and YA audiences. I'm sure it will show up in next year's Cybils race.