When the Lyrebird Calls, by Kim Kane, for Timeslip Tuesday

When the Lyrebird Calls, by Kim Kane (Allen and Unwin, 2016) is an Australian time travel novel (marketed as Young Adult, but with crossover appeal to both older middle grade readers (11-12 year olds) and no longer young Adults (over 20).  It won the 2016 Aurealis Award for best Children's Fiction in 2016, and has been sitting in my tbr list since about that time.  One of the ways I comforted myself this past spring was ordering lots of books from overseas I'd been meaning to read, and this was one of them.

Madeline was planning to spend her school holiday having fun with her best friend, an equally sporty sort of girl.  Instead, she's backed off to her eccentric grandmother.  Instead of cricket, she'll be put to home renovation work, and served stomach-turning health food.   But when Madeline is given the task of refinishing an old cupboard, she finds a hidden compartment, in which someone long ago hid a pair of beautiful party shoes.

With the shoes on her feet, Madeleine is transported back in time to 1900, arriving in the garden of the wealthy Williamson family.  Fortunately, the first people she meets are the three younger Williamson sisters, and one of them Gert, becomes her ally and confidant.  A story is concocted to explain who she is, more appropriate clothes are found for her, and before she can really get a handle on what's happened, she's part of the household.

What follows is time-travel tourism--Madeleine is a spectator on the doings of the family--the aunt who's fighting for Women Rights, the father who's caught up campaigning for federation for Australia, the duplicitous shenanigans of the beautiful German cousin, and the more mundane concerns of the girls.  She also is repeatedly struck by the constraints of the time, and by the casual racism.  But she's essentially an onlooker, and so reading the book felt like flipping through pages of sepia photographs.

There was no visceral Wanting in Madeleine's story and no achingly real emotional bonds formed in the past. Though she and Gert are friends, Madeleine sees Gert the way the grown-ups do--the plain, awkward one, who's never as bright and sparkling as her sisters, and never gets past that to what seemed like any actual appreciation or acknowledgement of Gert's finer qualities.  This left the closest relationship Madeleine has in the past feeling a bit like a shrug.  There were no moments of tragedy to tear at the reader, or ringing moments of triumph and personal realization that will change the course of her life.  She comes back to her own time with more interest in the past, and more appreciative that she and other girls can lead an active life in the present, but it all felt a little flat.

I think fans of  historical fiction about unhappy families will appreciate it more than I did.  The writing is fine, the descriptions vivid, and the historical information delivered pleasantly,  but it just didn't work for me.

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