This was actually a really sweet, charming read. It's the story of a city called Aramanth, whose citizens are ranked according to their performance in annual exams; their rating determines where in the city they live, in the one-room flats of Grey, in the cramped houses of Orange, in the family homes of Maroon or in the vast mansions of White. Fed up with the focus on rankings above all else, Kestrel Hath rebels; her family is humiliated, and as a result she and her brother escape the city and go on a Quest for the legendary wind singer which may help free the city.
Though it contains many of the ingredients of a YA dystopia (it was written before YA dystopia was a thing), The Wind Singer has more in common with the gentler forms of MG fantasy; actually it reminded me of Brian Jacques' Redwall series, as a novel leavened with light humour and warm, uncomplicated friendships, wrapped up in the traditional trappings of a certain kind of fantasy - the quest, the ancient map, the legendary evil. It's not overly concerned with political or psychological realism, more a symbolic tale about the importance of individuality and the power of love - refreshingly, the familial kind rather than the romantic kind.
What elevates it above most MG fantasy is Nicholson's prose: though mostly straightforward and lucid, it's touched by traces of lyricism that makes some passages sing:
In one direction, she could see over the land to the ocean; in the other, the desert plains lay before her, reaching all the way to the misty line of the northern mountains.
It's a lovely book which is occasionally very touching, and if I'd read it when I was twelve I think I would have loved it for ever. As it is, I'm a little too aware of its derivativeness to love it so wholeheartedly, but I would absolutely recommend it to an MG reader.