This is a book (well, ok, a series) that I read and re-read growing, starting from about 10. I’d never tried the audiobook before, however.
Dragonsong. Harper Hall Trilogy Book 1. by Anne McCaffrey. Performed by Sally Darling.
This is a classic coming-of-age story, set on McCaffrey’s planet of Pern. (McCaffrey always insisted that her books were science fiction, not fantasy, perhaps because science fiction was considered more prestigious when she was first writing. Some of the books in the series feel more like science fiction to me, but this one, with more of the dragon-like fire lizards and fewer star ships and discovering ancient technologies the original settlers abandoned feels more like fantasy.) Menolly is a young teen, the youngest daughter of closed-minded sea holder Yanus. Her gift and passion is for music, but when the Hold’s old Harper, Petieron, dies, she’s left with no one to understand her. She has to teach the children their songs, because no one else in the Hold can do it during the lengthy wait for a new Harper to be sent to them, but as girls are not supposed to be Harpers, she’s forbidden ever to play any of her own tunes. Music is hard to repress, though, and her father catches her playing a single chord of a new tune that bubbles out of her. She’s beaten severely, her instruments taken away. When the new Harper arrives, she’s not permitted to speak to him or even sing in front of him, even though Petieron had sent some of her tunes to the Master Harper of Pern. When she cuts her hand badly gutting fish, her mother tells her that she’ll never play again and should put such foolishness behind her. Eventually, she runs away and finds that she can live outside of a Hold, even with the intermittent but deadly danger of Thread-fall. By the end of the book, she has Impressed nine fire lizards and is on her way to the Harper Hall (which might be a spoiler, except that you might infer as much from the title of the series.)
This first book has always been the hardest for me, because of Menolly’s abuse and her subsequent depression in the first part of the book. As a child raised with old-fashioned spanking, I considered Menolly more misunderstood than abused. Now, as a mother opposed to corporeal punishment, Menolly’s parents are appalling. They are meant to be, and Menolly’s survival and later success are all the more brilliant because of the lack of support she has early on. I was a lonely, shy and musical child, and found introverted Menolly a kindred spirit. Listening now, I found myself caught up in the story all over again. I really appreciate how she finds a way for herself without becoming extroverted, and that, though she does gain in self-confidence, there is no sudden flip of the switch. My eight-year-old son, seeing the fire lizards on the cover, wants to listen to it, too; while I know he’ll be upset by the beating, there’s nothing else objectionable in this shorter sub-series. There is some evidence of what I always took to be Robinton’s alcoholism, but so brief that it isn’t here apparent as such. The sexism of the original Dragonflight (published eight years before Dragonsong) which I found so troubling when I went back to it as a college student is not here at all. There are several references to the events of the first two books to come out, but not so that you’d need to read them first – which is good, as those are significantly less appropriate for younger readers. The central struggle is about Menolly finding a place to use the gifts she’s been told aren’t appropriate for a girl. There’s still plenty of cross-gender appeal (if boys can get past the usually girly covers) as everyone, boy or girl, wants a fire lizard. This would even work for “survival book” assignments that come up from the schools every so often, as the central portion of the book goes into some detail on how Menolly survives in the wild, alone except for the nine fire lizards she has to feed. Sally Darling reads expressively, even if I’d read it so often to myself that her slightly old-fashioned accent and some of her name pronunciations were at odds with my own mental rendition. I’m now halfway through Dragonsinger, the next book, and enjoying it heartily as well.