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Review: Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

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Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy is a heart wrenching novel about loss and survival.

While I was familiar with Charlotte McConaghy’s work, especially her latest Once There Were Wolves, I had not read any of her novels yet. However, a book club reached out to me and asked if I could write book club questions for Charlotte’s novel, Migrations. I’m always happy to answer those requests and since I had just finished up some books on my TBR, I was able to fit Migrations in before their meeting.

And wow, what a novel. I read it over a span of a couple days but I probably would have sat and read the entire novel in one sitting if I could (my nine-month-old has other ideas for how I spend my time during the day, haha). I don’t think I’ve read a novel quite like this one before.

In many ways, it’s just absolutely devastating. The writing is so vivid and raw—it’s one of those where you truly feel everything that is conveyed.

What’s the Story About

Sometime in the future—could be soon or could be decades from now—many animals are now extinct. Climate change has done a number on the normal way of life. Franny Stone loves fiercely but also runs away from everything in her life. She takes her research gear and arrives in Greenland to follow the last Arctic terns in the world on what might be their final migration to Antarctica. Franny talks her way onto a fishing boat, and she and the crew set sail, traveling ever further from shore and safety. But as Franny’s history begins to unspool—a passionate love affair, an absent family, a devastating crime—it becomes clear that she is chasing more than just the birds. When Franny’s dark secrets catch up with her, how much is she willing to risk for one more chance at redemption?

Atmospheric

The setting is everything in most novels. In this case, it’s primarily aboard the fishing boat with an interesting cast of characters serving as crew. The hardship of sailing, the bonding of the crew mates—it’s all there. I thought the different dynamics among all the crew mates were interesting and it’s such a way of life that I know very little about so I did read it with fascination. It also makes me not want to get on a fishing boat any time soon as I could not handle all the waves, storms, etc.

Anyway, through it all, there is an unsettling nature to Franny that she’s not being completely forthcoming.

There are slow reveals that chip away at Franny’s steady and independent veneer. We can tell she cares deeply about what happens to the Arctic terns but there’s more than meets the eye to her devotion to these animals.

While this isn’t a thriller novel, there is plenty of suspense. And I don’t want to give anything away so let’s just say I was so curious of what Franny was hiding from the crew, and also herself. The reveals are really quite shocking too.

Belonging

A major theme of this novel is a sense of belonging, which is something Franny has not experienced. She was abandoned in her youth and as a result, she’s always running. Even though she’s happy with her husband, she can’t stop her habit. I think it shows how what happens to someone when they’re young, will have lasting impacts on the way they view the world. For Franny, if she leaves, she doesn’t have to experience real feelings. She can keep everyone at a distance. It’s the only way she knows how to protect herself.

But being in the tight quarters with the other crew mates, she’s not able to run away. And eventually, she’s forced to face what happened in her past.

While this novel is a hard read, I thought it was well done and it’s one that will leave a lasting impact. You can check out the discussion questions here.

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