Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett

Under cover of darkness, two brothers cross a war-ravaged countryside carrying a secret bundle. One night they stumble across a deserted town reduced to smouldering ruins. But at the end of a blackened street they find a small green miracle: a zoo filled with animals in need of hope.

A moving and ageless fable about war, and freedom.

It wasn't until I saw Sonya Hartnett's The Midnight Zoo made the 2011 CBCA short list that I realised I'd never reviewed her beautiful beautiful book on inkcrush.

I often find it hard to review books that startle me with their brilliance. It's as if my own use of the English language can not conjour up anything eloquent enough to match the beauty of the book.

I have been a long time fan of Sonya Hartnett. I have vivid memories of the first time I read her work (Sleeping Dogs ~ I was 14 and reading that book stirred something deep deep inside me & the reading of it is a favourite reading memory of mine). 

I am not entirely sure why she has been labelled YA. Her work really does transcend all ages and genres. I am pleased that her books are easily in reach of teens (who will find magic in her books) but I also think her work will resound with all humans in general ;) 

I have mentioned on here before  how much I ADORE Sonya Hartnett. In fact, she is my most top-read author (according to goodreads ~ alongside John Marsden) having read 14 of her books. I love her so much I find it hard to choose a favourite book of hers but can happily say that The Midnight Zoo carved a new little spot for itself up among my top faves of hers.

The Midnight Zoo is set during WW11, but it doesn't feel like it is particular to that time. The use of magical realism, a fable-like style and the story being told from the POV of two young boys lends the whole tale to an enchanting other-worldy era.

I always prefer to steal into Hartnett's books completely blind ~ with no sense of where she might be taking me (for that reason I don't want to hint much at plot). 

What I mainly have to say about this book is it is simply astonishing, utterly gorgeous and deeply moving. It was a truly sensory experience, being transported to another time and place.

 I felt such a tenderness and protectiveness towards Andrej and Tomas (gosh, they were brave and daring and scared and perfectly endearing). I was so rooting for them and invested in them, they scampered right into my heart and set up camp there :)

The animals in the zoo are absolutely charming and mystifying. They can talk to the boys and they all have their own shining personalities and stories to tell. This aspect of the book was handled with such eloquent ease and finesse I was just astounded. 

The other thing I loved about this book is it is completely unpredictable. Knowing Hartnett's other work, I wanted to hope for a happy ending but knew it wasn't guaranteed. Also ~ her spectacular use of magical realism adds a new dimension in taking the story to somewhere truly gasp-worthy. I felt an ache and tremendous satisfaction at the end. 

It's life-affirming and a tear-jerker and achingly hopeful and a simply brilliant story to spend your time with.

It could easily be studied in high school because it is full of gorgeousness and themes and I am sure each re-read (I will re-read this for sure) will show new layers of meaning and depth.

THE MIDNIGHT ZOO has been short-listed alongside some of my other favourite favourite books  for the CBCA Book of the year for older readers (2010). It is available internationally. It is on my favourites shelf at home and I absolutely completely love it.

The Midnight Zoo @ goodreads
Sonya Hartnett @ Penguin Australia
Sonya Hartnett @ Wikipedia ~ with a mountain of awards and nominations alongside her bibliography. Also: she wrote her first novel when she was 13 and it was published when she was 15. A true prodigy :D

international cover


  1. Oh Nomes, how I love your writing! This isn't even my kind of book and you make me curious to read it *sigh*

  2. Same here! Not my typical kind of read but it sounds wonderful :)

  3. Can you believe I haven't read a book by this author yet?!
    I can totally relate to not being able to describe one's feelings about a book that was beyond amazing. And wow! You've read 14 of her books! I really must read a book by Sonya Hartnett.

  4. It sounds amazing, I'm going to try to get my paws on it.
    Thanks for your thoughtful review.

  5. I haven't even heard of this author before!! This sounds really good, I'll have to see where I can get it.

    I just saw that my digital library added The Piper's Son!! I was going to buy it on my next book shopping spree in June - still might - but at least now I'll get to read it earlier. :)

  6. I've never read a book by Sonya Hartnett before but your review just convinced me to add this to my wishlist. If I get to read any of her books within the year, I could include it in the Aussie YA challenge.


    Sigh. You are a gem :)

  8. I am a huge fan of Sonya Hartnett and have been for many years, but your writing in this review is so incredible I already love her more.

  9. Wow Nomes, you well and truly found reviewing eloquence! Loved it, another one for my groaning wishlist lol

  10. Adding this to my list. I love how you describe the author's ability to transport the reader to another time and place. I am also intrigued with the animals and the main characters ability to talk and having their own shining personalities. As always your command of words has me drooling over a book!

  11. This is such a lovely review, all your reviews make me immediately run to goodreads and add the book!

    It's as if my own use of the English language can not conjour up anything eloquent enough to match the beauty of the book.

    Love this line and I know exactly what you mean, although I think you are absolutely eloquent enough :)


Thanks for the commenty love :)