A Song Only I Can Hear

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Barry Jonsberg, A Song Only I Can Hear, Allen & Unwin, June 27 2018, 288 pp., $16.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781760630836

When I first started reading this book, I thought Rob Fitzgerald sounded like a 18-year-old hipster, given the quick fast dialogue and the snappy humour in this book. But he is instead a 13-year-old kid who is desperately in love with Destry Camberwick, a classmate.

So begins Rob’s determination to win her heart, and along the way finds himself receiving anonymous text challenging him to step out of his comfort zone: like entering a talent competition and getting himself on the front page of a newspaper. Rob is an anxious kid, and he knows it – which is actually quite funny given how determined he is to do anything to come to Destry’s attention.

I was genuinely surprised at the choice of tone for Rob because he sounds so much older than 13 years old, and this is ultimately a coming-of-age story. It’s hard to explain but, you know those people who always have a snappy comeback, or is always funny, even when they maybe don’t mean to be? That’s Rob, but it is in essence a more adult tone of humour coming into the story.

This is also a love story – for Destry, for his family and most of all for his Granddad. His Grandad is a gruff, no-nonsense man, who doles out advice on his quest (among other things). It’s a rough start for them in the book, and I didn’t think much of that relationship until the book was well underway, and his Grandad began to share how he met his grandmother. The love between them is so clear, but unconventionally portrayed, it made all the difference in understanding Rob.

There are revelations that come at the end of the book over which I am torn. On the one hand, I understand why the author delayed the reveal, for it has the impact of resetting everything you thought you knew about Rob. But on the other hand, I wonder about young readers who might benefit from knowing things about Rob as he ventured through the storyline, well before the end.

The book is not without flaws for me, but this is a warm story, filled with humour and hope for Rob as he truly begins to understand himself.

Reviewed by Verushka Byrow

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