Truth hides in fissures and hollows, in broken places and empty parts. It can be buried, crushed, or burnt, but the truth will always rise.
These opening lines of Julie Carrick Dalton’s first novel promises the reader much, as she delivers a story that fulfills those promises. It’s a novel that takes you places that might be in your memory… the stolen yellow rowboat, the meandering lake. The two young girls in that rowboat picking blueberries, trying to discover things about a boy high up on a cliff. It’s a world where your best childhood dreams of danger, disobeying and taking risks come to life on the page.
In its opening, Waiting for the Night Song brings the reader to the mountains of New Hampshire where Cadence Kessler: Outlaw Entomologist, better known as Cadie, is examining the flora and fauna near Mount Steady. She is searching for evidence that a black beetle is killing the trees on the mountain side, thus creating combustible kindling in the already parched region—the areas future condemned to forest fires.
“The pea-sized creatures were killing off trees, leaving them as kindling in the parched woodlands. She stroked the delicate destruction with her finger. The beetles’ telltale blue fungus, the color of the autumn sky before sunset, stained the wood. The color meant death to the pine.” And thus we fall under the spell of Dalton’s writing, for in many ways this is a novel that is true to science, Dalton, a writer, an advocate for the environment has definitely done her homework.
The meat of the novel’s plot begins when Cadie gets a text from her closest and dearest friend, Daniela, her partner in the yellow rowboat, the vessel for all her secrets and longings. The text reads: They are questioning my dad.
Cadie must climb down her mountain, rush to help her oldest friend as this is Cadie, loyal, competent, eager for adventure, but holding within her a childhood secret she hopes she will never have to face.
At the novel’s beginning, we see the future Outlaw Entomologist being formed by the push and pull of her choices: should she follow rules or ignore them; should she push ahead with all her dreams and imagined plans or pull back. Rarely sharing exploits with her parents, she is the girl-hero, steady and sure of her choices, charging ahead with her big heart and her often impetuous decisions. She actually hits a bear with her car, and is still able to arrive on time to an important meeting about the black beetle. In real life, maybe.
Cadie is a female Huck Finn, an eternal friend with a huge heart and eager mind who pulls you in. She’s a rule follower, her own rules —risking much to discover things about that boy at the top of the cliff; what his story is; and—after being pulled into a task she doesn’t want to be a part of, an eternal secret keeper: who will never reveal to anyone about burying the body. Cadie is young, scared. She keeps her mouth shut, hoping she can spare the lives and the futures of others.
As the story builds, Carrick Dalton not only brings the reader into the world of environmental worries, global warming, but also the world of undocumented workers—another reason Carrick Dalton has created this character: Cadie again being, the Outlaw Entomologist.
But she is also the epitome of the best friend, she and Daniela creating the Poachers Code, an eternal bond that sets the stage for more adventures to come.
1. Keep one foot in the water. 2. Never take all the blueberries. 3.Don’t kill bugs. 4. No witnesses. 5. Be kind to people who eat our berries. 6. No evidence. 7. Don’t throw a rock if you can’t see the target. 8. Lake water heals anything. 9. No matches in the woods. 10. Never tell.
If you think this is child stuff, it is, but it is also the platform for future events that will challenge lives, friendships and the trust we place in one another. The beauty of the Poachers Code is that Carrick Dalton’s story, her unwinding plot, tests and advances every aspect of the code. Grown-up Cadie falls in love with Garret, the boy at the top of the cliff, requiring that everything she believes about him will be tested. So will the plot, as it careens into one challenge after another, some attempts to tidy all story lines feeling forced and overwritten.
But the true beauty of the story lies in the friendships of Cadie and Daniela–and the author even tells us that Cadie carries a copy of Huck Finn in her backpack, where she sometimes presses leaves she has gathered. Yes! Those passages are the beating heart of the novel, allowing us to wander through the childhood of the two girls. Yes there has to be danger and dramas, even Huck Finn dealt with that. But as a story teller, this is where Carrick Dalton’s talent lies–probably emanating from her own experiences on lakes and mountains, her love of nature and the secrets that it holds. The challenge of writing about the future of our forests and that of undocumented peoples in our country is a big one. This novel has focussed on aspects of both, requiring story lines that twist and turn, at one point, causing Cadie to become super-human, dealing with a ripped leg, then getting stitches with no pain meds, but that’s okay, because Cadie is immediately off to save someone else.
The heart of this novel is its portrayal of a friendship, one that began in a yellow rowboat, two young girls off to pick blueberries in a place that must be theirs, as life is wide open, the sun is shining and when you have a Huck Finn heart, everything is an adventure. The novel might wish for every reader a friendship like that of Cadie and Daniela–I had one. I hope you did too.
Thanks to Net Galley for a preview of this novel. And thanks to Julie. I had the privilege of reading part of her novel very early in its development. Thanks, Writer Friend.