I picked up a copy of Mary Amato's Guitar Notes for my guitar loving oldest daughter (age 15), after spotting the cover art at our local bookstore, and then seeing a commenter on Good Reads list the book as "Clean YA Fiction" - those can be hard to come by.
After losing his father to a brain aneurism, and his best friend to a move, Tripp retreats into his room with his guitar. That is until increasing isolation, sinking grades, and a summer of not working on make-up math assignments leads his mother to take drastic action by taking away his guitar.
Lyla has also lost her mother, a professional cellist, who died in a plane crash when she was young. Lyla took the fact that her mother's cello, flying on a separate flight, due to an overload of baggage, survived as a sign, and took up the cello, herself. Now in high school, the talented and driven musician has reached the age of life changing auditions, looming music school enrollment, along with her equally driven best friend (a violinist), and all her dreams are coming true - except she's not sure they're really her dreams at all.
Tripp signs up, and is assigned odd days, in music practice room B. One hour every other day, over the lunch hour, of escape and relief, with a borrowed guitar from the school's music closet.
Lyla is also assigned to practice room B, on even days. Armed with a recording of cello music, so no-one will know she's not practicing for her upcoming rehearsal, audition, talent show - life...she eats lunch in peace, writes an acerbic note to Tripp (Mr. Odd) for leaving garbage on the music stand, and tries to convince herself she loves her life, and is not about to have a heart attack.
One note leads to another, then to text messages, cell phone calls, emails, a friendship, a musical collaboration, improving grades for Tripp, a shared website, a gig playing at a wedding - and a pack of lies to teachers, to friends, and to their parents, that threaten to undo every good thing their friendship has brought to both of them.
The Positives -
- The book is clean - with no foul language to speak of, or sexual content.
- Interlaced with the story is a lot of real world advice on how to brainstorm an idea, write a song, and learn to play the guitar.
- The author's website has a fantastic reading guide, teaching unit (including vocabulary, creative writing, music, art, and science tie-ins), karaoke versions of the songs from the book, as well as the guitar chords for musicians who want to play along - and more.
- Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart is mentioned often enough in the story to make it almost impossible for a teen reader not to take a look at the classic.
- The ending is predictable, and too neatly tied-up.
- The secondary characters are one-dimensional, and underdeveloped.
- The main characters lack any sort of moral compass. They lie, steal, break rules, and dishonor their parents. Their intentions are not bad, but they are so self-focused, that they can justify just about any action in pursuit of their own happiness. As such, they better their situation in life, without bettering their characters, or themselves.