Author: Sarah McCarry
Genre: Magical Realism, YA Contemporary
Publication Date: July 30, 2013
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Synopsis: The first book in an exciting YA trilogy, this is the story of two best friends on the verge of a terrifying divide when they begin to encounter a cast of strange and mythical characters.
Set against the lush, magical backdrop of the Pacific Northwest, two inseparable best friends who have grown up like sisters—the charismatic, mercurial, and beautiful Aurora and the devoted, soulful, watchful narrator—find their bond challenged for the first time ever when a mysterious and gifted musician named Jack comes between them. Suddenly, each girl must decide what matters most: friendship, or love. What both girls don’t know is that the stakes are even higher than either of them could have imagined. They’re not the only ones who have noticed Jack’s gift; his music has awakened an ancient evil—and a world both above and below which may not be mythical at all. The real and the mystical; the romantic and the heartbreaking all begin to swirl together, carrying the two on journey that is both enthralling and terrifying.
And it’s up to the narrator to protect the people she loves—if she can.
☆: 2.5/5 stars – Somewhat reminiscent of my beloved Imaginary Girls, but it’s not quite that good
For the first thirty or so pages, All Our Pretty Songs is one of those lyrical, literary YA novels in the vein of Imaginary Girls, which is one of my all-time favorite books. As unusual as their friendship is, the narrator and Aurora brought to mind the sisterhood of Chloe and Ruby and that was a very good thing. After that, it turned into a little something else. The writing is generally lovely and there are so many good ideas here, but over-the-top execution, occasionally outlandish prose, and too many things happening too quickly for it to work, making this one a miss that grazes the target but is nevertheless a miss.
Generally, the prose is lovely and poetic, which is what made me think All Our Pretty Songs was going to rock me. There are multiple passages highlighted due to their simple beauty, but there are other highlights too. Highlights of ridiculous things. Our narrator describes a single song Jack plays on the acoustic guitar as (in summary) all the best things about nature, like “the ocean surging, the wind that blows across the open water, the far call of gulls. […] It is open space and mountains, the still dark places of the woods where no human beings have walked for hundreds of years, loamy earth and curtains of green moss hanging from the ancient trees. Salmon swimming against the current, dying as they leave their eggs, birthing another generation to follow the river back to the sea (ARC, ~14%).”
All this over a guitar song. After this point, we see a lot more ridiculousness and stream-of-consciousness. Here’s what the narrator has to say about the guitar player Jack after knowing him for a few hours at best:
“If I never see him again I will definitely go Juliet. Knife to the chest, fade to black. What is happening to me? I am not this girl. I am half monster, with spite and bile where normal girls nurture kittens and kind feelings. I do not fall for strangers, do not come unmoored in the dark at a single touch. Already I am cataloguing all the things I would be willing to give up for him if he asked (ARC, ~16%).”
At this point, I was laughing too hard at this unintentionally comedic stuff that I wasn’t able to penalize the novel for painfully ridiculous writing and insta-love.
Our nameless narrator’s two strongest traits are her bonds with Aurora and Jack, but both are contradicted in some way. Multiple times, she abandons Aurora in clubs or at parties despite promising herself she’d stay with Aurora to make sure she didn’t nearly kill herself again. Why her relationship with Jack fails to work for me can be blamed on the quote where she’s willing to kill herself for him. (On this note, I think the narrator is bisexual due to her getting it on with Jack and making out with Aurora multiple times.) Her relationship with her mother Cass is nice, but Cass unfortunately remains in the background until late in the novel.
Coming in at a very short 224 pages, All Our Pretty Songs somehow manages to rush everything and make nothing happen all at once. It sounds impossible, right? It’s not. For most of the novel, nothing happens. When something does happen, it happens so quickly that once it’s over and we’re back to nothing happening, it feels a little like whiplash. The prose is so determined to take over the novel that it practically drains the life from everything else. It’s sad to see this happen because had the prose not been so out of control, this could have been an AMAZING book. The ideas are great, but the prose buries them too quickly and won’t let them shine like they need to.
The over-the-top writing also takes a wrecking ball to any chance the magical realism elements had at being effective. This novel reminds me a lot of Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, which is also a literary YA novel with magical realism and lyrical prose as well as being one of my favorites. Where AOPS is in your face with its prose and its magical realism, IG allows lovely turns of phrase without letting the creepier, more subtle elements of magical realism become less powerful. That combination in IG makes me go “Wow…” in a way AOPS wants to but can’t.
The ending is a strange one that pretty much amounts to nothing being done and leaves me unsure of where the next two books in this trilogy are going to take it. I might read on if the prose gets cleaned up some and the story shines like it should, but otherwise, it doesn’t look like I’ll keep going with this series.