The Tricking of Freya: A Novel

This coming-of-age story (352 pages) was published in March of 2009 by St. Martin's Press. The book takes you to 1970s Iceland and Canada. Melissa read The Tricking of Freya and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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The Tricking of Freya

A Novel

Christina Sunley

There’s a lot going on in this novel, and it works. It begins as a childhood memoir and morphs into a thrilling outdoor adventure. But it’s also an immigrant story with a family mystery at its core. And it’s an examination (celebration, condemnation) of the power of story and language to shape our lives.

Our heroine and narrator is Freya Morris. For most of the year, she lives in Connecticut with her mother (her words: ‘a limbo to be endured’), but every summer, they make a pilgrimage to see their relatives in Gimli, a village in Canada that was settled by Icelandic immigrants.

The highlights of the trip are her grandmother’s cooking, the Icelandic Festival, and time spent with her Aunt Birdie. To 10-year-old Freya, Birdie is an enthralling combination of playful, dramatic, emotional, mysterious, and threatening. More appealing than her own kind mother, but also mercurial and moody.

Birdie is a writer like the celebrated Icelandic poet from which they are all sprung; her epic poem is called the ‘Word Meadow,’ and the clattering of her typewriter keys is like rainfall as she writes line after line of words. Between days spent cloistered in her room, she fills Freya’s ears and imagination with Icelandic poetry, myths, and language lessons.

What young Freya perceives as mood swings are actually symptoms of Birdie’s mental illness. And one summer, during the Icelandic Festival, a very Serious Dramatic Thing happens that changes all of their lives.

In the fallout from this tragedy, Freya distances herself from the family, living a quiet, grim existence in Manhattan — until she accidentally trips over a decades-old family secret. Then her only option is to leave all that’s familiar and head to Iceland to learn the truth about her family and herself.

Prepare to highlight passages and add notes to page after page of this book. Thanks to author Caroline Rea’s powerful writing, Freya and Birdie’s conversations are filled with wordplay, dark humor, and exhilarating descriptions of Iceland’s otherworldly landscapes. There’s symbolism and shout-outs to Icelandic sagas, and Birdie does a bang-up job educating Freya, and therefore us, about what it all means.

In Norse mythology, Freyja was the goddess of love, fertility, battle, and death. She was a seer and a shapeshifter who could turn herself into a bird. And like her namesake, our Freya undergoes a transformation in Iceland. It’s a wild, dangerous journey worth taking.

Winter in Iceland, Freya min, was much longer and darker than here. Little work could be done outdoors-light was scant, the weather forbidding. Dark day after long dark day the Icelanders were trapped inside. How did they stand it? They read. Members of the household took turns reading out loud by the smoky glow of a lamp lit by whale oil: sagas and poetry and the Bible and newspapers and any books they could get their hands on. Books were passed farm to farm. The name for these evening readings was levoldvaka, meaning evening-wake. In Iceland in winter, words took the place of light. — Christina Sunley

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