This book was a surprise review-copy, but an exciting one! Music? I love music! I’m a string-player myself! This is going to hit all the right chords with me. Get it?! “Chords” because musicians play…okay, I’ll stop.
Well. I have mixed feelings. But let me explain!
You might remember my post about my Bird Phobia while I simultaneously reviewed As Stars Fall, right? This post will be similar. I shall smack my childhood violinist stories in your face, and THEN I’ll review Broken Strings.
Thanks, Scholastic Australia, for the review copy!
Broken Strings by Maria Farrer hit shelves in March, 2014.
It is the story of a brilliant young violinist, her determination and struggle to achieve her dreams and the discovery that she is at the center of an extraordinary secret that has pulled apart her family for two generations. Jess, a talented 17-year-old violinist, suffers from stage-fright as she auditions for a place at a prestigious music school. Her family do not have enough money for her to continue to study so when she fails, she vows not to play again. Until her wealthy grandmother – estranged from her family since Jess’s mother fell pregnant – shows up at their doorstep and promises six months of tuition in exchange for Jess moving to live with her. Once ensconced in her grandmother’s rich, but empty, life she starts to uncover the mystery of why her grandmother never spoke to her mother again, and the secret which tore her family apart.
Cait’s Childhood Musical Story Involving the Violin
Once upon 7 years ago, I begged my mum to teach me the violin. (She played violin and so did my friend. So no, it was not an original and inspired decision. But let’s not dwell on that, okay?) I’d been playing piano for 1 year, so, pfft, I knew music. I was good at music.
Mum said no.
Crusher of childhood dreams, wasn’t she? But it might have something to do with a) I was already playing piano, and b) let’s be honest: violins are horrible, terrible instruments in the hands of beginners. Have you ever heard a cat being raked upside down on a tin roof in the middle of a hailstorm? It’s pretty similar to beginning violinists.
Let’s cut to the fun part.
Eventually, Mum relented. I was 13. I was pretty dedicated, if-I-do-say-so-myself. I affectionately called the violin The Squeaker (nothing to do with my abilities) and I proceeded to play for 4 or 5 years. Then I quit. I took up cello.
There are so many reasons cellos are better than violins. Let me list them for you:
1) It’s really annoying carrying instruments around. But if you have a huge cello, you can look weak and pathetic and your dad will carry it for you.
2) Cellists get to sit down.
3) Cellos are mellow. Violins put the high in “highly-strung”.
4) Not as many people play the cello, so you look special.
5) Cello strings don’t break as easily as violins. Let’s not talk about how they’re twice as expensive though.
6) If you don’t like who you’re sitting next to in an orchestra, you can stab them in the ribs. I’m joking! Don’t actually do this! It’s not nice.
7) Cellos can use violin rosin, but violins cannot use cello rosin.
8) Did I mention you always get to sit down? Huge bonus right there.
Least to say, I know music.
So, let’s review, shall we?
With Her Stringy Abilities, Cait Reviews Broken Strings
I spent most of the book frustrated, annoyed, but yet intrigued.
Oh, wait, you want reasons? Probably a good idea. Okay, hold onto your rosin and here we go.
The narrator, Jess, is whiner than Gollum without his Precious.
I have a very low-threshold for whiny narrators, so naturally you need to give Jess a go before you judge. But Jess has a very self-pitying view point. She’s sarcastic, but in a bitter and spiteful way. I really just didn’t like her attitude. What really set me off? Well…
SCENARIOS: Your long lost grandmother turned up at your door and invited you to live with her for 6 months in London and study music. But your parents throw a raging fit and cried about how cruel and wrong the grandmother has been to your mother and how could she (some mysterious past grievance there). So then YOU decide that day to run out the door and live with the grandmother (leaving a note for the parents…love ya, but not that much, bye).
MY REACTION: You’ve got to be kidding me, right?
Jess doesn’t know her grandmother. Obviously something bad happened because her mother is crying and saying “how could you do that to me when I was a child?” to the grandmother. Maybe my reaction should’ve been “Wow, Jess sure was passionate about this opportunity to study music in London.” But all I could think was, “What a little brat.”
Jess’ attitude continues to suck, with instances like her crying on a train and an old lady giving her a tissue and then asking her if she’s okay, while Jess internally thinks, “Why doesn’t the old bat leave me alone?” She just gave you a freaking tissue, child. Grateful? Any time now?
Let’s not forget, during her 6 months stay with Tiger Grandmother, Jess doesn’t got to school.
Pft. Who needs school? We have Tiger Grandmother running the ship! Practise! Practise! Practise!
Then I had issues with the musical details.
If Jess wasn’t annoying enough, I kept finding twitchy discrepancies in the writing. Jess would snap a string…but that’s okay, just restring and tomorrow do a surprise performance. It mentioned she had trouble tuning…but new strings are hopeless. You have to play them in for hours before they’re fit for public. More than that, you have to let them sit on the violin to stretch.
Jess played Grade 8 level when she was 13?!! If she was really that talented, she would not be needing to improve so drastically during the 6 months at her Grandmother’s. There are only 8 grades in music. Jess is 16 now. What…what has she been doing all this time?
So, let’s put all that aside and just look at the story itself, okay?
It’s an engaging story! It’s very musical, but not so much that an un-musical person couldn’t enjoy it. There’s an interesting love-triangle-ish thing happening there (though I wasn’t sold on either love-interest and don’t understand why two boys chased someone as cold and condescending as Jess). Jess goes head to head with her grandmother’s military personality.
There are secrets. Mysteries. Half-minute phone calls to those parents. (Like who really cares about her parents? Ha.)
There’s a beautiful cover! And the ending…oh, the ending has a surprise I did not see coming and it explained so, so much of the grandmother’s personality. You’ll never guess. And you want to know. I can see it in your eyes. Don’t doubt my abilities.
And because violinists are quite cool (if totally uptight), here you can see the piece the Jess was flapping around trying to learn.
From a technical standpoint, I felt it made a lot of errors. (But who knows? Maybe I’m the wrong one.) From the character angle? I just disliked Jess to the umpth degree. From the story line angle? It was interesting and I wanted to know what would happen next. Which basically means: you must read this book and tell me what YOU think.
you know the drill, peoples…i want to hear your musical stories! ever play an instrument? ever stood next to a beginner violinist and wished (subtly) that a meteor might take them out? and…ever been disappointed when a book seemed to get some technical facts wrong?
Cait would like to add that playing cello AND violin is very hard to upkeep. In fact, she probably has not played the violin now for at least 1 year. Sad, very sad. But ohhh, the glories of the cello. (As she has now educated you about.) Besides thinking about deep cello melodic notes, Cait has been reading viciously in an attempt to catch up on her TBR. She’s doing well! Currently she’s reading THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN.