15 year old Jen Morgan wants to enjoy visiting her her family for Christmas in a small village on the coast of Wales. They had moved there after Jen's mother was killed in a car accident, leaving her in her American high school. When she arrives, she finds that her family is breaking apart. Her father is withdrawn, her brother Peter angry and sullen, and her sister Becky is lonely. And the cold house where they live, sandwiched between the edge of the sea and the great, ancient expanse of Borth Bog, is not a home. Jen decides to stay in Wales, to make a home for her family and bring them together. In this she is helped by the old magic of this lonely place.
This is the part of Wales where the Lost Land was drowned, and where the great bard Taliesin lived. On one of his many lonely walks, Peter finds a harp key that takes him back in time to view Taliesin's life-- a past both beautiful and terrible.
"Outside, the wind had begun in earnest. It came in hard gusts up the coast from the southwest, flinging its self at the houses on the top of Borth cliff, hurtling over miles of churning sea. Waves drove across the wide beach to the very foot of the sea wall, making the thin string of houses look terribly vulnerable.When Peter does tell Jen, at first she can't believe in the magic of the key, but gradually she and Becky are drawn in too, to help Peter return the key to its owner-a journey that will take him back in time...
Something was coming. Peter knew it, and he was pretty sure he was going to be involved in it. Against his skin the Key felt hot. There was no vibration as yet, but...Peter was afraid and yet he couldn't take it off, he couldn't get rid of it. He was drawn to the Key even as it frightened him. He wished someone else knew. Jen was the only person he could imagine telling, but he had sense enough to see she was in no mood to believe such an outrageous story. he heard the girls talking in the kitchen and felt very much alone, but he'd refused them."
I have been re-reading this book for decades. It is not simply a magical timeslip story, a must read for anyone (like me when I was younger) enchanted by the history and mythology of Wales. It is also one of my favorite family stories, with great characterization and its appealing (well, to me) plot of older sister trying to help her family--having to learn to cook, and that sort of thing...These two elements--the magic and the familial--are both treated seriously, and it is the seamless meeting of the two, I think, that made this book such a favorite of mine. Also I thought the life of Taliesin, and Wales in general, were really really neat. I guess I still do.
"At the head of the valley they looked back, and it surprised neither of them to see the waters of Nant-y-moch stretched across the valley, filling the space they had just ridden the moterbike through."Misc. comments: A String in the Harp is Newbery Honor Book, so happily it is still easy to find. It does not seem at all dated-I imagine the weather in Wales in winter is still much the same, and the feelings of culture shock, grief, and loneliness that this family feel are also timeless.
If you have a review of a timeslip story you'd like to share for this week's Timeslip Tuesday, please leave me a link! Thanks.