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Fiction Coming Of Age

Our Homesick Songs

by (author) Emma Hooper

Penguin Group Canada
Initial publish date
Jun 2019
Coming of Age, Family Life, Literary
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jun 2019
    List Price

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From Emma Hooper, acclaimed author of Etta and Otto and Russell and James, a People magazine “Pick of the Week,” comes a “haunting fable about the transformative power of hope” (Booklist, starred review) in a charming and mystical story of a family on the edge of extinction.

Newfoundland, 1992. When all the fish vanish from the waters and the cod industry abruptly collapses, it's not long before the people begin to disappear from the town of Big Running as well. As residents are forced to leave the island in search of work, ten-year-old Finn Connor suddenly finds himself living in a ghost town. There's no school, no friends, and whole rows of houses stand abandoned. And then Finn's parents announce that they too must separate if their family is to survive.
     But Finn still has his sister, Cora, with whom he counts the dwindling boats on the coast at night, and Mrs. Callaghan, who teaches him the strange and ancient melodies of their native Ireland. That is until his sister disappears, and Finn must find a way of calling home the family and the life he has lost.

About the author


  • Long-listed, Scotiabank Giller Prize

Contributor Notes

Raised in Alberta, EMMA HOOPER is a musician and writer. As a musician, her solo project "Waitress for the Bees" tours internationally and has earned her a Finnish Cultural Knighthood. Her debut novel, Etta and Otto and Russell and James, was an international bestseller and was published in 24 countries. She is a research-lecturer at Bath Spa University, but comes home to Canada to cross-country ski as much as she can afford.

Excerpt: Our Homesick Songs (by (author) Emma Hooper)

There was a mermaid, said Finn.

Yes, said Cora. She pulled an old towel up over her, a blanket. Out on the dark green night water, said Finn, there was a mermaid. And, because mermaids need to, it sang. Sad songs, homesick songs. Night after night, over a hundred thousand fish. And the only one who could hear it was a girl.

Lonely, said Cora.

Yes, a lonely girl, said Finn. Orphaned. But tying knots and listening to the mermaid sing made her feel a bit better. All through the night, she’d lie awake and knot and listen to the songs.

And then the storm, said Cora.

Yes, the storm, said Finn. There was a storm one night. And the girl couldn’t think of anything but her parents not being there, and the knots weren’t helping as much as they should, and the mermaid was singing and singing, not high and pretty, like you might think, but low and long, like she felt, so the girl got up, out of bed, and followed the song down to the water.

The sea.

Yes, to the sea. Where the storm was wild and it was probably too dangerous –

Definitely –

And it was definitely too dangerous, but she kept going anyway, the mermaid’s singing washing up to her, calling out to her. She walked all the way to the edge of the sea and then, even though it was freezing cold, she took another step into the water. She should have sunk down, but she didn’t. She stayed on the surface.

She what?

She stayed on the surface.

She did? I don’t remember this part . . .

She did. Because the sea was so thick with cod, brought out by the singing, hundreds of thousands of them, she could walk on them, right across their backs, out and out and out towards the song . . .

Oh . . .

And it got louder and louder until it was louder than the wind, until –

Until she saw it wasn’t a mermaid at all, said Cora. Yes, said Finn. Until she saw it wasn’t a mermaid. It was Dad. It was our dad. Singing.

Cora and Finn were on the ferry, going west. The sun had set and their parents were asleep, leaning against each other, surrounded by bags and boxes. There was no one else there. It was too foggy to see out the windows, to check for boat lights or anything else. Too quiet and late for music, too much pull of the sea for reading. There was nothing to do but tell stories. Tell this story.

And then? asked Cora.

And then everything, said Finn.

Editorial Reviews

“True to its title, Our Homesick Songs is filled with music. The lyrical language is met with literal accordions, violins and songs passed through generations, sung by parents and children and even mermaids (a phenomenon in which they all believe). The town is filled with magic, and so is Hooper’s writing. Our Homesick Songs is a eulogy to not just a town but a lifestyle — one built on waves, and winds, and fish, and folklore.” The New York Times

“Hooper is fascinated by the emotional territory of migration and how individual lives are shaped by forces as powerful and inexorable as the sea.”Daily Mail

“Warm-hearted and winsomely imaginative.” Sunday Times
“After gaining worldwide success with her first novel, Etta and Otto and Russell and James, which was translated into over two dozen languages, Albertan Emma Hooper now places the musicality of her pen in the service of a marvellous tale on the edge of a dream, borne by an imagination that is both vivid and enchanting…A novel of great beauty.”Le Devoir

“[Emma Hooper] has recreated the demise of the fishery on the one hand, and explored the persistence of folk memory on the other. … [She] has constructed such an authentic sense of place from such a distant shore. In Hooper’s hands Newfoundland has become a kind of Narnia, or Never-Never Land, a place that we believe in.” The Irish Times
“This story will break your heart and then warm it right up again.”Canadian Living

“A Wes Anderson-esque tale to fall for.” Stylist

“Elegant and musical.” The List

“Emma Hooper has managed to create a novel containing numerous little tales that in their own way keep on giving.” Kantar Media

“A lovely homage to Newfoundland culture, a story about storytellers told with a beguiling simplicity. Lovely and lyrical…Hooper’s work brims with mermaids and music and memory, as any good Newfoundland story must, and there is no shortage of eccentric characters.”Toronto Star
“Shifting from present to past, the story weaves together fables, songs, mystery, and mermaids. Brave and romantic, the Connors’ journey is uniquely nostalgic and magical, illuminated with childhood wonder, ingenuity, and love.”The Christian Science Monitor
“The prose is incredibly lyrical, with repetition and natural cadences throughout that make for a very specific rhythm. Our Homesick Songs is both a novel and an ode, reminiscent of the shifting waves of the deep and the sea shanties inspired by it.” uInterview
“With a genius both searching and playful, Emma Hooper creates an endangered world aglow with musicality and invention, and a family who braces against loss with charm, humor, and hope. Our Homesick Songs is a brilliant and tender dream—a book with that rare ability to strike notes that are at once otherworldly, wholly human, and entirely unforgettable.” Affinity Konar, bestselling author of Mischling

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