In this excellent YA novel, Russell’s (Across the Mekong River, 2012) teenage cellist heroine, Emily Lopez, uses music as her framework for dealing with the world.
Smarting from a recent breakup, Emily is excited to spend the summer after her junior year touring Europe with her orchestra-conductor father, who’s promised to help her learn Saint-Saen’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in preparation for her August audition for Juilliard’s pre-college program. It’s actually a re-audition, since her first tryout was “only marginally less disastrous than the sinking of the Titanic.” Emily has trouble with anxiety and OCD; her habits include tapping her music stand three times with her bow before she plays. She’s devastated when her father calls off the trip, citing a busy schedule—a recurring theme since her parents’ divorce. Instead, Emily is forced to spend her summer in Montana at a ranch owned by her stepfather Marty’s dad. But once she gets there—and meets a dreamy half-Crow ranch hand named Breck—she starts to realize that she can build a life around music without letting it take over. Russell does a fantastic job creating Emily’s world, and the young girl’s voice is charming and plausible right from the start, when she rattles off her to-do list: “4. Learn Saint-Saens concerto pronto. 5. Forget Jordon exists. Correction—forget ALL boys exist. 6. Buy DVD—Yoga for Stress Reduction.” The characters who surround her are fleshed out as well, all with their own problems and strengths: Her stepgrandfather, Jake, who hides his fears about getting older under a cantankerous facade, is a particular delight. The chapter titles are musical terms—subito forzando, capriccioso, dolce—that serve as descriptions of events and subtle ways to underscore Emily’s worldview, steeped in music. The ending comes too soon, though, and readers will wish they had more time to enjoy the characters.
Well-written and engaging YA.