Four Weeks, Five People by Jennifer Yu

9780373212309_0ec94

Originally reviewed in School Library Journal, March 2017.

Gr. 9 & Up – Yu’s debut, realistic fiction young adult novel is set in upstate New York at Camp Ugunduzi, a wilderness therapy camp for troubled teens. The quickly-paced story is told in alternating points-of-view between five unique campers, just introduced and grouped together during the four week long camp. Clarissa, suffering from OCD, wants to get better and experience some “normal” teen activities. Andrew, whose eating disorder caused the band to break-up, is guilt-ridden and longs to get better. Ben, unable to separate fantasy from reality, prefers to go through life pretending to be in a movie, complete with voice-overs. Cold, unfeeling Stella has been to camp before, and doesn’t want to be back. Mason, narcissistic and full of himself, feels he has no problem, but is merely surrounded by idiots. Thrown together with no social media or daily luxuries, the teens find themselves getting comfortable with each other, despite initial trepidation. Perhaps one thing they all share is annoyance at the counselors: middle-age, hippie Josh and overbearing, prude Jessie. When tragedy strikes midway through camp, the teens’ progress and outlook are tested. The emotionally-charged, yet hopeful ending will encourage understanding and empathy to even the most reluctant readers. Background material is added piecemeal, as characters think back to the situations which brought them to camp. The characters are diverse, balanced well between male and female, and appealing to readers of both genders. The story includes mature language and content (i.e. underage drinking and smoking). At times raw and heartbreaking, the language is realistic, which teens will appreciate. VERDICT – Recommended as a first purchase for teens. Humorous scenes throughout will delight readers, despite the heavy subject matter.

 

Advertisements

The Song of Hartgrove Hall by Natasha Solomons

book

The Song of Hartgrove Hall, written by Natasha Solomons, begins in post-WWII Britain in the 1940’s. The story alternates between 1940s – 1960s Britain and present day, with the same family, the Fox-Talbots, inhabiting Hartgrove Hall. Hartgrove Hall itself has such a pivotal role in this story; the once stately, then crumbling, then restored once more, colonial mansion is a character itself.

The Fox-Talbot brothers, Jack, George, and Harry (known as Fox), have all returned home to Hartgrove Hall after Jack & George fought in the war and Harry was away at college. The only people awaiting them at Hartgrove Hall are their father, the General, his butler and various maids on staff. Their mother passed away when young Fox was only a toddler, leaving the three boys in care of their stern, military minded father. The mansion itself is crumbling, after being used by soldiers as a home base during the war. The home Fox has always loved is falling apart, and he can hardly bear it. The brothers decide to try to save their home, begging the General not to sell, hoping they can make ends meat. Unlike his brothers, Fox has always held a special love for music and his favorite past time is to collect songs, mostly folk songs passed down through the generations in his home country of Britain. He dreams of being a composer, though his brothers and father find it laughable that one of their own be more interested in music than farming or military pursuits.

To celebrate the coming home of the brothers and the end of the war, they throw a New Year’s Eve party at Hartgrove. The eldest brother, Jack, who is loved and treated much like a movie star by anyone he meets, especially ladies, has brought a young Jewish wartime singer named Edie Rose to the party. Everyone is quite taken with the famous, beautiful, young, and talented singer. The problem is, Jack isn’t the only brother who is cast under Edie’s love spell. Young Harry (Fox) is quite taken with Edie, an infatuation which grows into love as they spend time together collecting songs, discussing music, and even performing together over the years. When bonds between brothers come up against bonds of love, herein lies the making of a great romantic love triangle, and this story will not disappoint in that regard.

In present day, fifty years later, Jack is an old man who has lost his wife, Edie, along with his ability or passion for playing the piano. Just when grief and guilt threaten to take him under, his daughter drops off his 5 year old grandson for a few hours out of the blue for Jack to mind. Trying to redirect the young, energetic boy from total destruction of his home, Jack plays a few notes on the piano, and young Robin is enthralled. As it turns out, Robin is quite the piano prodigy, a fact that Jack can hardly believe, but ultimately gives him hope for the future, urging him to live out the rest of his life the best way he can. Is it too late for Jack to seek forgiveness after such a long life together with the one he loved?

Fans of music, historical fiction, family drama, and romance will surely enjoy this novel. It’s a beautiful portrait of a family and how they dealt with the many hardships which life brought them. Readers interested in knowing more about the art of song collecting will find a most helpful notes section about contemporary song collecting and links for more information on the topic at the end of the book.

Playing With Fire by Tess Gerritsen

I’ve read all of Tess Gerritsen’s novels and have loved each and every one. Her background in the medical profession is evident by her ease of writing medical suspense with both clarity and interest. Her books are very difficult to put down, as they captivate the reader from the very start.

Her newest novel, Playing with Fire, is a stand-alone and is rather different from any of her previous works. She combines suspense, mystery, family drama, and historical fiction, and she does it beautifully. One of the coolest things about this book is that Tess actually composed a piece, a waltz titled Incendio, which is the theme music for the story. Not only is she a very talented writer, but it turns out that she is just as talented musically. A sample of Incendio can be found at http://www.tessgerritsen.com/. Listening to the music after reading the story made it even more powerful. What a nice treat to have a musical score to go along with such a wonderful story.

The story switches back and forth between present day and 1940’s Italy during WWII. Modern day, Julia Ansdell, a violinist, happens to find some very old music in an antique store in Rome. The music, which has never been published, captivates her and she begins to learn the complicated waltz, titled Incendio. The music starts to affect her three year old daughter in horrifying ways, which in turn causes Julia’s husband to worry that her mental health is unstable. Julia is scared, because her own mother was deemed criminally insane and she died while at an institution. Could the mental illness be passed down to her, or worse, to her 3 year old daughter? Determined to find the source of the waltz and its composer, Julia takes off for Venice while her family thinks she is elsewhere. What and who she finds there will shock the reader, as well as Julia herself.

During 1940’s war torn Europe, young Lorenzo, a talented violinist, and also a Jew, begins practicing music with Laura, a beautiful Italian cellist. Lorenzo finds himself falling for Laura, despite the odds against them. Soon, Lorenzo and his family are rounded up by German soldiers, ripped from their homes, and sent by train to the concentration camps in Poland. Lorenzo is torn from his family by an officer charged with finding musicians to play at the concentration camp. While there, he composes the waltz, Incendio. I won’t give away any more of Lorenzo’s story, because I don’t want to spoil the ending. Let’s just say you’ll want to read it for yourself.

This is a beautiful story, and I wish the novel was longer, because I read through it and found myself wishing for more at the end. Playing with Fire is a wonderful example of the powerful, lasting affect which music has on a person’s life, memory, and attitude. Well done, Tess. This is one of the best pieces you’ve written!