Review: A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley

“You never really know what someone else is thinking,” she says. I nod and put down the map.

Nafiza wasn’t too pleased with me last week for not swooning over Cath Crowley’s upcoming novel. Before I begin this review I would like to state for the record that 1. I did not read A Little Wanting Song to appease Nafiza* and 2. if I’d read A Little Wanting Song sooner I might have looked on Graffiti Moon more favourably because I would have known how good the writing would be.

A little wanting song by Cath Crowley

What the cover has to do with the characters inside I have no idea. Ignore the cover. Pay attention to these words, from the first chapter:

At six o’clock the sun rises and slights the car from the outside. Blinds us almost. Dad squints through his glasses at the road, but me? I close my eyes. I like things better when I listen. Everything in the world’s got a voice; most people don’t hear hard enough is all. Sunrise sounds like slow chords dripping from my guitar this morning. Sad chords, in B-flat.

“Open your eyes, Charlie love,” Mum whispers. “You’ll miss out on the day.” Not a lot to miss out on, really. My days have been sort of shaky lately. Like a voice running out of breath. Like a hand playing the blues. Like a girl losing her bikini top at Jeremy Magden’s final party for Year 10 last week, if we’re getting specific. Mum says look on the bright side. Okay. I guess I was only half naked.

This is Charlie. She and her father are headed to the small town where her grandfather lives for Christmas holidays. This is the first Christmas since her gran died. Charlie’s dad is still grieving Charlie’s mother, and Charlie’s best friend, Dahlia, is no longer speaking to her.

Charlie has music. Charlie lives and breathes music; she plays her guitar and sings for no one to hear but herself and her dead. She writes songs and experiences the world in terms of chords, backbeats, tempos. Music is her hole in the galaxy to a safer world, and her bridge to other people.

Nights like that one make me realize how much I’ll miss Dave and Luke when I go. I think how easy it would be to stay. Dad would love it if I studied by correspondence or went to college in the next big town and worked part-time at the caravan park with Mum.

But then I think about spending my whole life with boys who read car magazines and think “amoeba” is the name of a band. I think about spending my life sitting on plastic chairs waiting for fish and chips to arrive. That sort of thinking can kill a person.

So instead I think, Get out, Rose, get out. See nights that last forever in Antarctica. See where the world began.

Rose is so angry one almost forgets how intelligent and committed a scholar she is. Rose feels trapped in her hometown. Her parents have lost their imaginations and her best friends, Luke (also her boyfriend) and Dave aren’t likely to leave town, which is all Rose wants to do. When she wins a scholarship to a big-name school, Rose is determined to take her chances. But she needs a home to stay in, and Charlie could be her ticket out.

Complex characters for the win! Charlie is sad and lonely with a strong line in humour, and, of course, music. Rose is angry, ambitious, and cruel, generous and warm-hearted. Luke is a trouble-maker but more than that; Dave is car-crazy and gentle, with a kind mother and an angry father. Dahlia has reasons for not texting Charlie that have nothing to do with social ambition. And all of these descriptions touch only on the barest, most surface level. It is a pleasure watching their friendships – and other ships – unfold, recoil, dissolve, firm up. The parents and grandparents also have character traits, flaws, and development – no static background adults here!

You might like this book if: you like Australian stories; you like stories about female friendship; you like stories about male-female friendship; you look stories with complex parent-child relationships; you like stories with artist protagonists; you like stories with gutsy protagonists; you like stories with protagonists who do what they are afraid of and rock at it; you like girls who tell jerks to shove it up their arses.

*although that is an idea to keep in mind for future use, should the need arise :) Can a reader hold a grudge against another reader who gushes about a favoured novel? I think not.

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