Fifteen-year-old Steffi Herrera feels the beat of jazz in her soul, but is that enough to sustain her against her classmates’ relentless bullying?
Returning home from school, she overhears jazz emanating from a window and follows the sound to the retirement-home room of Alvar, nearly 90 and a former jazz musician. These two unlikely friends gradually reveal their stories, Steffi of her music and Alvar of his experiences as a country boy trying to make his way in the jazz world of World War II Stockholm. Steffi’s father is Cuban; her Caribbean roots make her stand out in her small Swedish town, where she’s a lightning rod for her brutal classmates, who insult her, spit on her, and otherwise make her life at school a torment. Achingly talented, she withdraws into her music but suffers nonetheless, her misery blended with her older sister’s, confused by wakening lesbian feelings. Inviting transitions smoothly shift readers into diffident Alvar’s parallel story, as he acquires jazz band experience and tries to find a way to make attractive, charming Anita fall in love with him. A deliberate pace enhances the carefully nuanced progress of Alvar’s relationship with Anita but also with her latter-day alter ego, Steffi, although the aging musician’s connection with her is as a desperately needed mentor. The translation from Swedish is smooth, and the culture, though different, will feel recognizable and relevant to American readers.
Sensitive and deeply moving: outstanding. (Fiction. 12-adult)