04 March, 2013

Almost Unqualified Success

Toddie Downs

Wow! This is the first Early Reviewers' book that i have read in a long time and felt this good about on finishing ~ at least since November 2011 and the Treehorn trilogy, and that's an established children's book ~ so the first thing to say is, definitely a success.

I would guess that Summer Melody is probably marketed as a juvenile, aimed at teenage girls, certainly an audience i am fitted to be part of by neither age nor gender. The primary character, the one we are introduced to first, and from whose point of view much of the story is told, is a female teenager. Jane is fourteen, distinctly uncool, and feeling rejected by the world, including her family. Fortunately all is not as dark as it seems for Jane, though the summer does get fairly bad at times, what with her mother's stress over her grandmother's dementia, her cousin's on-again off-again romance, and trouble with the boy she is asked to babysit. The end, while perhaps simplistically happy, does seem to signal that things may be preparing to improve.

The other two main characters, from whose alternating perspectives the other chapters are told, are Bonnie, Jane's mother, and Meg, her cousin. Each of the three have problems in their lives, mostly rotating around familial orbits, and each has to rely on others to help solve them. I like this feature, as it seems to reflect quite closely on real life, where we have to depend on others as well as ourselves.

I must say that i found the alternating perspective a little confusing at first; i would say that i was about four or five chapters in before i fully understood, and i remember having to go back twice to see which character was which: Somehow the very simplicity of the names allowed them to be blurred in my mind. Fortunately the chapters are short enough that i had not invested too much time in each, and was not really confused for long before being able to go on.

The rest of the writing style i found enjoyable. Downs developed the lesser characters and plot-lines well, so that i felt that there is quite a lot of texture to the book (ironic, as it's an e-book), a good background against which the main lines and characters develop. The question of who Pete was, for example, and why Vivian is the way she is; the lovely actions of Brady's father at the wedding reception; the relationship between Mona and her dress designer: These are all non-essentials, but cleverly thought through and well written, adding much to the pleasure of the book.

In the end, the one minor caveat aside, Summer Melody was a complete success for me, and i am delighted that i was given the opportunity to read it.

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