I received a copy from Netgalley.
I honestly don’t know how to feel about this one. I wound up getting a finished paperback, I saw it in the bookshop and couldn’t resist after seeing how pretty the cover was. At just under 300 pages it’s a fairly short read.
A contemporary YA set in Australia. – Trigger warnings for abuse both mental and physical.
15 year old Beck lives with his mom and younger sister Joey. Beck’s German mother was a piano prodigy in her youth but circumstances cut her glorious career short so she’s decided to live her dreams through her son instead. Beck is forced to practice complicated classical piano all his spare time before and after school. He lives in a very strict environment where everything revolves around his piano playing.
His mother is one of the most brutal, violent YA parents I have come across in a long time, she was absolutely vile. She ridicules Beck every opportunity, as if she’s looking for anything to criticize his playing. She uses threats and violence. Beck is allowed no friends, no freedoms, only focus on the piano; even school seems to be a second thought. The mother has spent every last cent she has on the piano Beck plays and they are not well off. Something she never fails to remind him of.
Poor Beck is a shrunken, pitiful mess. He’s afraid of his own shadow. The story is told from his point of view and his voice is just heart breaking. I spent most of the novel wanting to hug this poor kid and take him away from his horrible home life. He has a small relief in his delightful younger sister Joey. Joey is a loud and bright kindergartner who loves her big brother.
Because of the violence hanging over his piano playing Beck has no idea just how good he is, since all he’s heard is he’s never going to be good enough. He has a secret hobby of writing his own music. For a school project Beck is paired with August, a flighty girl who’s a big animal rights activist. She’s airy and full of personality, doodles on her hands, walks around with no shoes. August was nice enough, but there was something about her that I didn’t get. I couldn’t really connect with her character at all.
While Beck is trying to get through school with as little effort as possible, August despite her somewhat flaky personality, is a straight A student. She’s determined to get a good grade on the project. She slowly begins worming her way into Beck’s life, meeting with him before school so they can walk Joey to the kindergarten together and discuss their project. She bonds with Joey and tries to find out more about Beck. He’s clearly resisting and doesn’t want to know, but she just doesn’t seem to want to accept that.
As the days progress they get to know each other and little by little, Beck slowly starts opening up to August, learning to like some new music, some new foods. It’s sweet watching them come together, but…eh, there was just something not working for me where August was concerned. She gave off this sort of “I’m so speshul because I’m different” vibe I didn’t gel with as a reader. One thing I really did like about August was her parents. Her parents run an animal sanctuary, and they were awesome. I loved August’s parents.
Meanwhile Beck has the threat of several very important performances hanging over him, and things are not going well. When things don’t go well his nightmare of a mother goes into violent overdrive. It’s horrifying to read as things go from bad to worse for Beck. We learn a little about his mother’s background when Beck’s uncle – a very famous pianist comes to visit. But it’s no excuse for her behaviour. And the uncle is not trying to excuse it, at least.
It’s not an uplifting story at all, really. As mortifying as some of it is, there are some scenes that were beautifully written, capturing Beck’s terror at home, the loathing he has for the piano, the secret desires and longings. While some of it was rather boring and slow. It has its moments as well were hope shines through in a rather grim story.
Certainly shows a lot of promise for a debut. I rounded up and gave it three starts (it’s somewhere between a two and three for me).
Thank you to Netgalley and Orchard Books for the review copy.