Title: Strange Sweet Song
Author: Adi Rule
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: March 11, 2014
I bought this book on a whim after it came highly recommended by my friend Holly. I am learning that I should automatically read everything she suggests, because all of her recommendations have been fabulous. I am a big fan of fantasy novels, and this book sounded vaguely magic-related, so I gave it a shot. It was worth it.
There are no spoilers in this review, because I think the plot twists are impressive and I don’t want to put them to waste.
A quick summary from the author’s website:
Music flows in Sing Da Navelli’s blood. When she enrolls at a prestigious conservatory, her first opera audition is for the role of her dreams. But this leading role is the last Sing’s mother ever sang, before her controversial career, and her life, were cut tragically short.
As Sing struggles to escape her mother’s shadow and prove her own worth, she is drawn to the conservatory’s icy forest, a place steeped in history, magic, and danger. She soon realizes there is more to her new school than the artistry and politics of classical music.
With the help of a dark-eyed apprentice who has secrets of his own, Sing must unravel the story of the conservatory’s dark forest and the strange creature who lives there — and find her own voice.
I was confused when I first began this book, because I wasn’t sure when it was set. It seemed much more gothic – the setting, and the lyrical prose, the whole feeling of the novel. But surprisingly, the book is contemporary. There are sections that are set in the near past (though again, I thought they were set hundreds of years in the past, until I finally figured out the timeline) – and it is easy to tell when the story switches to flashback, because these are set in the past tense while the bulk of the book is in the present.
There are magical elements of the book, but the characters don’t really seem to question the magic or the logistics of what occurs, which reminded me quite a bit of magical realism. This is rare in YA books, I think, which made me cherish the story even more. Additionally, the magical elements don’t overpower the heart of the book, which focuses on Sing’s character development.
Sing (which is a strange name, but I soon got over it, and I did appreciate the symbolism and the repetition of the meaning that was discussed throughout) faced plenty of issues that weren’t magical-related. She struggled with making and keeping friends, with balancing her father’s high demands and her own career aspirations, and with living in the shadow of her deceased mother. These are all highly relevant contemporary problems, and the way Sing’s personality and beliefs shift throughout the book made her a supremely relatable character.
I pride myself on being able to spot twists and turns in the plot, but there are surprises in this book that I never saw coming. One in particular is a clearly orchestrated deception that the author pulls off perfectly – just as I thought I had something figured out, I found out that I was completely turned around. The whole last third of the book, too, moved at a breakneck pace, which was slightly disconcerting at first but which I enjoyed overall.
Also, if you’re familiar with the plot of the Japanese movie Hidamari no Kanojo (which was based on a book, though it was never translated into English) you might find similarities in story. I just watched that movie over the weekend, and I was stunned at how much the stories resembled each other. But while the same thing happens near the end, this novel’s conclusion is much more satisfying.
If you like fantasy or magical realism combined with a contemporary YA novel, this is the book for you. Also, if you’re a music lover, you’ll find the magic in this book. A love of opera and concertos isn’t a requirement to understand this book, of course, but you’ll appreciate it even more. Finally, if you love books that are beautifully written, you should give this one a try.
I’m looking forward to Adi Rule’s next book.
5 out of 5 stars.