Bart is an eternal optimist. At thirteen years old, he’s had a hard life. But Bart knows that things won’t get any better if you have a negative attitude. His mother has pushed him into boxing lessons so that Bart can protect himself, but Bart already has defense mechanisms: he is relentlessly positive…and he loves opera. Listening to—and singing—opera is Bart’s greatest escape, but he’s too shy to share this with anyone. Then popular Ada befriends him and encourages him to perform at the school talent show. Ada can’t keep a secret to save her life, but Bart bonds with her anyway, and her openness helps him realize that his troubles are not burdens that he must bear alone. The Ballad of a Broken Nose is a sweet story about bravery, fear, bullying, sports, and music. But most of all it is about the important days of your life, days when everything seems to happen at once and nothing will ever be the same again.
Thirteen year old Bart has had the kind of childhood that forces one to grow up quick. In addition to managing his school work, he also juggles boxing lessons, assisting the apartment building super, and taking care of his mother who is obese, a bit of a hoarder, only sporadically employed, and unsuccessfully hiding a growing drinking problem. Though her mothering leaves something to be desired --- Bart's often stuck eating crackers or other snack foods in place of balanced meals --- she is a kind soul who does honestly care for her son. She's just got some stuff she needs to work out in her head.
Bart's main passion in life is opera music. He dreams of one day being a famous opera singer himself, and secretly has the talent, but his stage fright is so bad the only place he can sing is in the bathroom with the door locked. He takes boxing lessons because he gets the impression that his mother would prefer to have a "tough guy" kind of son. She even named him after Bart Simpson because she said the cartoon boy seemed like someone who could easily take care of themselves in life. (Bart doesn't tell his mom he has pretty much zero natural talent at the sport).
Making an impulse decision one day, Bart decides to share his secret love of opera with friend Ada, in the strictest confidence, of course. Well, not surprisingly, the secret "mysteriously" gets out. Now Bart is simultaneously trying to fend off bullies and dodge requests to be in the upcoming school talent show!
Poor kid is just emotionally exhausted all the time, but he's trying to make the best of the lemons life has handed him. Growing up in Norway, Bart's never known his American dad, only having stories to go by... so, with the help of a trusty search engine, he sets out to finally track him down. He also pushes his neighbors to work toward a building clean up. Sure, it's pretty squalid low income housing with people shooting up in the hallways and stairwells, but Bart convinces them that collectively their little community can do better!
After Ada's initial blabbing of the opera secret, Bart sees that pursuing his dream may be his main ticket out of the depressing life situation he's currently stuck in.
It all sounds a bit heavy for a middle-grade / YA read, I know... and at times it can have that undeniable feel of "well this just got real, didn't it!", but what keeps things on the light end is Bart's sweet soul and his sense of humor, the two combining to create an inspiring sense of optimism for readers! Bart's not unaware of his hardships, he just accepts them as reality and tries to roll with it all the best he can. Who can knock that message! Though I wasn't 100% content with the ending here, I did quite enjoy getting to know Bart and his social circle and I love that the story leaves you with this reminder to unashamedly love what you love and make the most of your life.