________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 20 . . . . January 25, 2013



Shelley Hrdlitschka.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2013.
268 pp., trade pbk., pdf & epub, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0197-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0198-1 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0199-8 (epub).

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



"Allegra." There's a catch in his voice. I spin around and notice his creased brow and the clenching movement of his jaw. He shoves his hands in his pockets. His eyes narrow. "What is it with you? I don't get it. I've seen you dance..."

"You have?" That surprises me.

"Yeah, I've watched a couple of your classes."

I think about the large glass window in the dance studio.

"I've never seen you."

"No, because you were totally into it, and you're like... amazing. And your music..." He shakes his head. "My god, it's so awesome, yet you..." He doesn't complete the sentence.

"Yet I what?"

He shuffles his feet and looks away. "You're distant. You put up a wall and don't let anyone in. It's like you're... you're protecting yourself from... from I don't know what. You're nothing like the girl who dances and writes music. I just don't get it." He turns and starts walking down the driveway. As he passes the mailbox, he kicks the post, but he doesn't turn back.

Music is Allegra's life, and so she switches to a performing arts school in the hope that she can concentrate more on her dancing. She gets off on the wrong foot with the music theory teacher, but when he gives her a special project as an opt-out from taking his class, Allegra realizes that there is a composer deep within her and she can put all of the theory she has learned into practice. In fact, she and the theory teacher decide to collaborate on the musical composition, and it appears that their attachment may go deeper than that of just musical colleagues or a student and her teacher.

      Unfortunately, the rest of Allegra's life is not so positive. She has always had difficulty making friends, feeling her peers are too immature for her. Even in her new school surroundings, Allegra is accepted by only a few, and when rumours begin to surface about her, these new friends are quick to believe the worst. Allegra doesn't help herself because she tends to skirt the truth, telling herself that her music is more important than peer relationships.

      Hrdlitschka takes a close look at the atmosphere of a performing arts academy and the pressures faced by students who are ambitious and anxious to excel. She seems to understand the importance of music in the life of a musician and to communicate the emotional power it can exert. Life at the school is not entirely rosy, however, since it remains a high school filled with performance competition as well as the tensions of both friendships and romantic relationships which are felt by young adults in any school setting.

      Hrdlitschka looks at various relationships within the novel, and, although they all add to the plot and interest, she seems to overcomplicate the situation. A fellow classmate is interested in Allegra, but she wants to focus all of her energy on her composing project and, by extension, on Mr. Rochelli, her music theory teacher. Within only weeks of beginning school, Allegra has a huge crush on her teacher, and her feelings seem to be reciprocated. Rochelli's almost immediate involvement with his 17-year-old student seems barely believable.

      Allegra's emotions are further tangled due to the atmosphere at home. Her father, a bass player in the Loose Ends, and her mother, a classical harpist, are not getting along and are in the midst of a separation. Despite their musical backgrounds, neither parent seems to truly understand Allegra, and because all three have very busy and very different schedules, it is easy for the family to begin to drift apart.

      The student/teacher relationship scenario follows to a logical conclusion, but Hrdlitschka ties up plot elements too neatly, with a 'happy ever after' ending which seems contrived. It seems that Allegra has become more self-aware by the end of the book and that is satisfying, but the outcomes for other characters are less realistic.

      Allegra will appeal to young adult female readers who are interested in the performing arts, and, despite some shortcomings, it is an interesting and enjoyable read.


Ann Ketcheson, a retired secondary school teacher-librarian and teacher of French and English, lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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