Thursday, March 6, 2014

Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing by Steven Luna #review

Title: Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing
Author: Steven Luna
Publisher: Booktrope Editions, 2013

I first encountered Steven Luna’s writing when I perchance downloaded Joe Vampire, and immediately fell in love with his writing. He has that comfortable, easy-to-settle-in style that I adore. His characters are surprisingly… normal… despite their circumstances. Okay, granted, that’s not to say that most other authors’ characters aren’t, but Luna has a particular way of expressing individual voice in such a way that you gain an instant impression of what they’re like as people – within and without.

Songs from the Phenomenal Nothing combines two of my favourite themes – music and a coming-of-age scenario. Tyler Mills loves music. He has hopes of making a career of it, but when we meet him, he’s auditioning for a sport in a conservatory, and he rebels against perceived strictures in his life. In fact, much of his behaviour at the start of the novel is a knee-jerk reaction to some slight (from his point of view, that is).

And the scary thing is how much I identify with the lad – so much so that as I read, I wished I could reach him somehow and hold up a mirror. Tyler is angry. His mother died six months ago and he and his dad are not seeing eye to eye, despite his promise to his mom that he and his dad would look out for each other.

The two couldn’t be more chalk and cheese – delicate, creative Tyler versus mechanic father Tom. It’s a recipe for disaster now that Miranda has passed on.

Tyler’s girlfriend, Chelsea, provides a stabilising force in his life, but it takes Tyler quite a few hard knocks before he sees what an awesome lady he has in his life. His friend, Xan, and fellow band member, might not be the best influence in his life but as a friend he is solid, dependable – and genuinely cares for Tyler.

The catalyst that sets off this story’s conflict even more is when Tyler has to clean up the house, garage and garden as punishment for something that he did (am not going to give spoilers, so just take my word for it). He finds a stack of old journals that used to belong to his mother, which paint in a surprising history. Tyler is set on a crazy journey, and along the way he discovers not only his parents’ past, but also that the people he knows aren’t quite who they seem to be. I’m not going to say any more because I don’t want to ruin the surprises.

Mostly, we are faced with reality as we want it to be versus the unvarnished (though obscured) truth, which may not be as glamorous as we’d hoped for. Tyler must weigh up his options and accept that which is, rather than hanker after the glitter of his self-created fantasy.

Oh, and the music…

Glorious music threads its way throughout this novel – Luna has an understanding that makes his work a pleasure to read, and oh so inspiring.

This is what YA should be, with authentic characters who have plans and ambitions beyond interest in the opposite gender. They are multi-dimensional beings who get angry, make poor judgment calls then have to deal with the consequences of their actions.

I’m going to close by drawing parallels between this book and Suzanne van Rooyen’s The Other Me, as titles that are similar. If you love YA that is edgy, gritty and laced with characters that are less than squeaky clean, and who do the things your mother warned you about, then these are your books.

But getting back to Luna. He is awesome. He is fabulous. Read his books! They are fun, with a touch of poignancy, and will make you laugh or groan out loud at places.

Okay, I can probably froth and gush endlessly so I am going to shut up now and just tell you to go by Steven Luna’s books.

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