The Map of Leaves by Yarrow Townsend

Published by Chicken House Books, 2022.

The Map of Leaves is exquisitely written and brilliantly original. The descriptions of the natural world and rich and immersive, and the book is underpinned by a real reverence for nature. What I loved so much about this story is that plants are at the forefront and actually become characters in themselves. They speak to Orla and she talks to them; it’s quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

12-year-old Orla has lived on her own since Ma died, with only her beloved garden for company. When sickness comes and nature is blamed, Orla knows she must find a cure. Armed with her mother’s book of plants and remedies, she steals away on a river boat with two other stowaways, Idris and Ariana. Soon the trio must navigate the rapids of the Inkwater to a poisonous place from which they may never return …

After years of living on her own, Orla is prickly and fiercely independent. She’s not your typical heroine and I loved her all the more for that. To begin with, she is distrustful of Idris and scornful of Ariana and wishes she were alone in her quest to find a cure. However – in one of my favourite tropes – the children become friends. I loved the book’s exploration of friendship and loyalty.

The message about re-establishing a respectful relationship with the natural world is another of the book’s powerful themes. We see a landscape ravaged and polluted by man’s greed, a world out of step with nature. Orla and her Ma, with their respect for nature and their recognition of its wisdom and power, have got the balance right. I found the detail about plants and their properties, and their use in herbal remedies and cures, particularly fascinating.

I also enjoyed the exploration of how those in power spread lies to serve their own purpose, fear-mongering to deflect attention and shift blame. As has happened many times before in history, the wise woman is ostracised and cast as a danger and a fraud, becoming the subject of rumours.

The Map of Leaves is a thrilling adventure story – pacy and full of peril. I enjoyed the unexpected revelations, and the slow reveal of plot clues and Orla’s backstory kept me guessing and intrigued. In a post-pandemic world, an unexplained disease spreading through the land bringing death and panic had a powerful resonance.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 8+

Thank you to Chicken House for sending me this book to review.

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