A story about discovering the artist within and being happy—talent or no talent.
Reed’s (Courting Kathleen Hannigan, 2007, etc.) charming new novel stars a neurotic singer with mother issues who has been avoiding auditions and attending frustrating therapy sessions instead. When Cecilia meets a homeless boy on the streets, however, her life takes a risky new direction. By involving herself in his problems, she learns to cope with her own, and she finds fulfillment in helping two troubled teens who must care for a baby while living hand to mouth. The author employs a generic plot that feels very “rags to riches” and makes it her own, using everyday issues—problems with low self-esteem, money, kids—to connect each character to the others. Reed turns ordinary metaphors into apt reflections of the characters’ inner states. Cecilia, for example, who has been stalled in her ambitions, takes up running, which depicts not only how she’s moving toward a better self, but also how she feels about her life despite her progress. To the overly self-critical Cecilia, who’s new to jogging and not especially fast, she’s always being passed, or surpassed, by others. Reed’s portrayal of human psychology is convincing. We can, for example, sense Cecilia’s anger and self-destruction every time she lights a cigarette, particularly since smoking damages her gifted singing voice. Reed sometimes resorts to telling instead of showing (“What she had yet to realize was how much she needed him”), but overall, she gives Cecilia nuanced, flawed dimension. Early on, Cecilia is often judgmental and impersonal, fearing that the boy she’s helping is immoral and even diseased. What Reed does best, though, is bring out similar aspects in all the characters. The therapist, also an aspiring sculptor, finds that like Cecilia, he’s afraid to act and move forward with his life. The homeless boy puts his talents to good use, and each character achieves new meaning in his life—through romance, new responsibilities and opportunities. Those shared traits create sympathetic, memorable characters.
A well-written, endearing book that surprises—even if its happy ending is a little too perfect.