A review by Nalini Haynes
Twelve-year-old Aissa, whose name means dragonfly, must metamorpihize like the dragonfly to save herself and her island. Set at the time of Minoan Crete, Orr re-imagines the legend of the minotaur to be something more believable, based on archaeological artefacts.
Aissa was born with a vestigial thumb on each wrist. Her mother, the high priestess of her island, was devastated because every priestess – a hereditary position – must be perfect. Alissa’s father cuts off her vestigial thumbs then dies at sea the next day. Her mother sentences her to death.
A wise woman takes the baby to a foster family instead of casting her off a cliff. Years later, raiders murder Aissa’s foster family, leaving her bereft and traumatized. She is mute due to trauma when she returns to the town of her birth where only one old woman knows her history.
Outcast, bullied and treated like a slave, Aissa suffers as she grows up.
Every year the island offers a tribute to Minoan Crete; the tribute includes produce and one boy and one girl, both aged 13. Aissa wants to be tribute to get off the island.
Once off the island, Aissa discovers her future is as a bull-dancer, a gymnast required to vault over enormous aurochs bulls on festival days. Her mentors are two former bull-dancers, both of whom were maimed during their year of bull-dancing but both of whom are fierce and strong.
Dragonfly Song is a lovely story for preteens told partly in prose, partly in free verse. This unusual style may encourage a new generation to engage further with forms of poetry.
I found the story so engaging that I wanted Aissa to be older, the story to be more adult. I had to keep reminding myself that the story is for primary and middle school children! However, it’s an excellent story for generations of family members — parents, grandparents and children — to share, to read together or apart and to discuss.
Dragonfly Song can be taken at a merely superficial level or discussion can delve into bullying, difference and disability.
I highly recommend Dragonfly Song, another beautiful story for children from the author of Nim’s Island and Peeling the Onion.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Format: paperback, 400 pages
Publisher: Allen & Unwin Childrens