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‘Waiting For the Night Song’: Julie Carrick Dalton’s Debut Novel Masterfully Interwines Mystery with Social Injustice

Julie Carrick Dalton’s debut novel, Waiting for the Night Song, is a powerful mystery that is simultaneously engaging and informative. The book is split into two main time periods, both featuring Cadie, a curious young girl turned climate researcher. The novel shifts between a former summer in Cadie’s life taken up by a crime she can’t shake off and the present day when she and her friends have to face the consequences of the crime. Simultaneously, Cadie is focused on a beetle research project to prevent forest fires around New Hampshire, one which could potentially get her into a lot of trouble. Several smaller plotlines, including young love and tests of friendship, are also prevalent throughout the novel.

Mystery is not usually my style, but this book drew me straight in. Dalton’s writing is clear and to the point, a quality I appreciate in mysteries. Instead of relying on language to drive her plot forward, Dalton’s stellar storytelling qualities made the plot drive the book along the entire time. There wasn’t a time that I got bored while I was reading Waiting for the Night Song. I particularly liked that the plot transitioned between the present and past almost every chapter, as that kept me on my toes as I had to follow both plotlines. The plot was easily one of the highlights of this novel and there were so many clever stories strung into the larger themes in the novel that kept the pacing fast and kept me wanting to read more.

One of my favorite parts of the plot was seeing the friendship between Cadie and Daniela develop and bloom and then hit difficult points. Dalton does a great job of staying realistic. This is not a fairy tale novel and so the characters feel more raw. Instead of sugarcoating the idea of a perfect friendship, Dalton exposes readers to the reality: that true friends may have to face several challenges to strengthen their relationships. In fact, none of the characters have smooth sailing relationships with each other. So, when the characters do come together to achieve certain goals, it only makes the power of unity more pronounced. Also, by getting to see all the character’s histories and present selves, I got multiple lenses of who these characters were and was able to connect to almost all of them for different reasons, which speaks to Dalton’s expert worldbuilding and character development.

While the book initially seemed a bit overwhelming with several themes, I actually found that Dalton executed the large amount of themes well. Part of the reason this mystery was more engaging than others is because it touches on two pertinent global issues: immigration and climate change. To start with immigration, Daniela’s family is illegally residing in the United States after fleeing El Salvador. Cadie, who does not have to deal with the reality of being illegal, fails to initially comprehend how much pressure Daniela’s family faces. This plotline is really powerful as Cadie ultimately comes to understand the risks for Daniela’s family. Again, Dalton puts reality front and center and uses Daniela to bring light to a very scary reality for many people in the United States. Throughout the novel, there are countless times when Daniela reminds Cadie of the reality she faces. The repetition of those reminders remind readers that this issue is all consuming for so many people seeking shelter in the United States.

via @juliecardalt on Twitter

The other theme that this book masters well is climate change. Cadie herself is a climate scientist who is working to prevent fires. She’s looking at a specific beetle species which has been sucking the moisture out of trees and creating large patches of dry forest. But, like many of the current climate scientists, her research is ignored or even mocked at times, as she faces censorship and other issues. The climate crisis in our world is very scary and very real, but it often goes ignored in the wake of other issues. Waiting for the Night Song brings up these issues and makes them very clear, through teenage climate-activist Sal and Cadie herself. Both of these characters are dedicated to science and pursue it for their livelihoods. In turn, their conversations allow Dalton to keep fueling the plot of the mystery while bringing in alarming facts about climate change. I really appreciated that Dalton is using her novel platform to promote real, consequential issues like the two I’ve just mentioned, as it’s important for authors to exercise their voices.

I appreciate Dalton’s novel for several reasons. First, like the classic novel, she touches on universal themes of friendship, truth and unity. But, beyond all of that, she goes the extra step to raise awareness with this powerful novel, with a strong incorporation of multiple social crises we’re currently facing. Waiting for the Night Song is a consequential read that I’ll definitely be revisiting soon. I encourage you all to check it out.

Rating: 9/10

I received an Advanced Review Copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Waiting for the Night Song will be released on January 12th. You can find it for preorder on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Target

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