Over the last month or so, I’ve been able to make room in my life for reading. It has been so satisfying and fun to attack my TBR pile. STRANGE SWEET SONG has been calling to me since last summer when the author and fellow VCFA Alum, sweet Adi Rule, signed my book. Once I picked it up a few weeks ago, there were no breaks for cheese sandwiches. I’ll even admit that my children had to eat cereal for dinner one night because I could not tear myself away.
I was immediately hooked by the world of Dunhammond Conservatory (DC), a school for elite musicians that backs up against a mountain inhabited mystery, murder, and magic. Soprano, Sing da Navelli, is not only elite in her skill but she has an almost-royal music bloodline. Her mother is famous not only for her diva attitude and operatic achievements as a soprano, but also for the way she died on stage playing the role of Angelique in the opera by the same name. Sing’s doting father is a famous composer and big donor to the DC.
Sing’s bears the weight of her mother’s personality and larger than life last roll. While Sing is good at what she does, she isn’t great. Is she only at DC because of her lineage and her father’s contributions to the school? Sing struggles both to prove herself and to re-become the girl who loved singing for the joy of it. Who is the best person to help her find that joy–the handsome accompanist, Ryan or the odd apprentice Nathan Daysmoor?
Intertwined with Sing’s story is the story of the opera Angelique, written at DC, that tells the fantastical tale of a beast called the Felix that inhabits the mountain behind the school. Sing is driven to find out if the Felix is fact or fairytale. Is it true that its sadness and resentment leads it to tear out the throat of all who encounter it? Is it true that if your sadness touches the heart of the Felix it will grant you a wish? And those odd things on campus… are they the doing of the Felix?
These questions keep the story moving at a clip so it’s hard to slow yourself down to appreciate Adi Rule’s beautiful writing–but you must.The music scenes are so lovely even an opera averse reader will be mesmerized. I was especially impressed by the seamless weaving of plots and subplots: Sing’s journey to be the singer she wants to be, the fantasy/horror/magical realism of the Felix, the opera, and the story of the mysterious apprentice, Nathan Daysmoor.
I found Sing’s friend Zhin a little too convenient at times, and Lori Pinkerton and Ryan a little cliché but other more rounded characters far and away made up for them. Sing is sometimes unlikeable but just when we are about to lose faith in her, she opens in a way that allows us to hear her true voice and humanity sing.
So much of Young Adult is– how do I become the person I want to be–the person I am–while dealing with the expectations of parents, family, community, culture and society. Who am I? Where do I fit? I know that I gravitate to this category of books in my reading and writing because I am still defining my own path as well. Adi Rule develops this theme in all of the interwoven story threads in a lyrical must read. Brava!