by Cath Crowley
CHARLIE DUSKIN loves music, and she knows she's good at it. But she only sings when she's alone, on the moonlit porch or in the back room at Old Gus's Secondhand Record and CD Store. Charlie's mom and grandmother have both died, and this summer she's visiting her grandpa in the country, surrounded by ghosts and grieving family, and serving burgers to the local kids at the milk bar. She's got her iPod, her guitar, and all her recording equipment, but she wants more: A friend. A dad who notices her. The chance to show Dave Robbie that she's not entirely unspectacular.
ROSE BUTLER lives next door to Charlie's grandfather and spends her days watching cars pass on the freeway and hanging out with her troublemaker boyfriend. She loves Luke but can't wait to leave their small country town. And she's figured out a way: she's won a scholarship to a science school in the city, and now she has to convince her parents to let her go. This is where Charlie comes in. Charlie, who lives in the city, and whom Rose has ignored for years. Charlie, who just might be Rose's ticket out.
Told in alternating voices and filled with music, friendship, and romance, Charlie and Rose's "little wanting song" is about the kind of longing that begins as a heavy ache but ultimately makes us feel hopeful and wonderfully alive.
Release Date: June 8, 2010
I generally don't read a lot of contemporary, for whatever reason. I think I'm always afraid that it's going to be very soapy and melodramatic and whiny -- something, I don't know, just a little too much and not really my thing. But like every genre, there's the good and the bad, and I need to realize that I can't be afraid of sampling it from time to time in order to find the good. Because when it's good, it's good. This is good.
In A Little Wanting Song, Cath Crowley was able to really capture not just being a teen, but being a human. Charlie was one of the most real characters I have had the pleasure of reading in some time. She's shy and sort of timid, a bit of a wallflower type, but because this is told in alternating first-person accounts, the reader gets to enjoy the really rich internal voice that Charlie has. She's smart and funny and artistic, and she's also nervous and lonely and a million other things that work together to make her a fully-realized character. She almost ceases to be a "character" at all, and becomes someone you can really connect to. And Rose isn't far behind on the Full Character Scale.
Just as much as the characters, I enjoyed Crowley's writing. Her prose was simply beautiful: it was smooth and flowed well in that way that makes it hard to put a book down -- you know you should because it's 2:00am and you have to work in the morning, and as soon as you find a good stopping point, you will put it down, but first, how about one more chapter to see how Charlie reacts to what Rose just did; oh, that's how? Well, we better see how Rose reacts now...Hmm...maybe one more... It's that kind of writing. It just seems effortless, which means there was probably a good deal of effort behind it. There's a lot of relatable humor in both Charlie's and Rose's narration. And even if the voices overlap sometimes, they still remain their own distinct characters; it's almost in the way that good friends sound a little alike, but you can tell them apart -- it's probably part of the reason they are good friends.
This is a coming of age story, and a friendship story at its finest. Even when it's completely predictable -- and it can be -- it still works. It's thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing, and it's got me rethinking my stance on contemporary fiction. Or at least considering widening my stance on CF. The only real downsides for me -- and really, I was able to set them aside -- were: the bit of predictableness I mentioned ^^. There is a formula to coming of age stories, and this one does use it a bit; also, there is a spot in the middle of the book that, though I don't dislike it, I wonder if all of what happened needed to happen. It seemed not quite forced, but almost. Like action and craziness was needed as a catalyst. As I said, I liked it, but it was a tiny bit jarring to have a ton of stuff suddenly happening in a rush. But these were minor and the rest of the book more than made up for it.
One last thing I want to mention: Charlie writes songs, and some of them are included in the book as a sort of poetry, and at first I was very dubious. I don't always trust great prose writers to write great poetry -- because often, they don't. So I have to give Cath Crowley a bit of a pat on the back, because some of her poetic interludes were really very nice. They stayed in Charlie's tone, they were expressive and lyrical without being too much, and some of them were really affecting.
I would recommend you pick this up, it would make a great beach read. Or a great winter, cuddled up with cocoa read. :)
[disclosure: This book was sent to me by Knopf books for review at my request, yo!]
Here's my Teaser Tuesday from A Little Wanting Song; it's from the beginning of the book, and it sets the tone and draws the reader in beautifully. Very funny.
"Who's this?" Dad asks when a catchy tune comes on my CD. We pass the skeleton tree that never has leaves, no matter what time of year. Bare gray branches wave us on. "No one you know, Dad," I say.
~ ~ ~
The [Christmas] tree flicks me the finger on my way throught the living room. I flick one back. Solidarity. Christmas isn't always what you'd hoped for.
~ ~ ~
I thank [Dave] for my hat and close the door. Sure, I want to open it straight back up and yell his name but I don't. I draw a line between me and uncool and I don't cross it.
Instead I put on a Fiona Apple CD and turn her up loud.
[...] I dance loud to my music. Oh yeah, I'm sassy. I'm hard to get, that's what I am. Hard. To. Get. Cool. I slide to the fridge and grab a Coke. I slide back. "What are you up to?" Grandpa asks, walking into the kitchen.
"I'm being sassy. Playing hard to get. Cool. Not desperate."
"Dave Robbie's riding his bike around our front yard. Any idea why?"
In case of fire, it's good to know we can all get out of the house in less than five seconds. I take a breath and open the door. "Hi. Did you forget something?"
He shakes his head. "I just didn't want to go home."
Fuck cool. Cool is overrated.
"Do whatever you like, Luke."
"I will," he said.
"Dickhead, I shot back." Things are bad with your boyfriend when every conversation ends with "Do whatever you like. I will. Dickhead."
~ ~ ~
Sure, friendship is all about believing in someone so hard they believe it, too. Sure, it's about trust. But if anyone hurts her tonight, it's about ripping them apart with my bare hands and really enjoying it.
Note: A Little Wanting Song, originally published in Australia, where it was shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year , was originally titled Chasing Charlie Duskin. I don't know if anything of import was changed along with the title.