Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review: The Disenchantments

Nina LaCour
Dutton Children's Books
Colby and his best friend Bev have a killer post-high school plan. First, a tour with Bev and the rest of her all-girl band, The Disenchantments, then a year traveling through Europe. The plan has been in place for the past four years and by the time they graduate high school Colby's more than ready to follow through. But then Bev confesses that she's not going to Europe; she's going to art school. And not only is Colby betrayed and confused at this change of plans (and the fact that Bev didn't tell him until the last minute), he also has to deal with the fact that he now has no idea what to do with the future stretching out ahead of him.

I completely loved Nina LaCour's debut novel, Hold Still, and this second book didn't disappoint. Narrated by male protagonist Colby, there's a bittersweetness obvious throughout the entire book, on every page. Colby's been in love with Bev for ages and despite the fact that she obviously knows of his feelings, there's no acknowledgment from her. While Colby is an artistic, mostly-honest, and mostly-easygoing character, Bev reminded me a little too much of John Green's Alaska -- defiant, hardened, and beautiful. She'd rather quietly lead Colby on than be honest with him, and this leads to a sharply-felt rift between the two of them that infects the other band members as well. This brings us to Meg and Alexa, sisters who round out the cast of the story. Both girls were quirky, likable characters who, much like Colby, had just enough realism to keep them grounded in reality. However, their personalities were less-defined than the other two and even now I'm having trouble articulating any differences in their personality. I love these characters, but they sort of blend together as one.

More important than the characters in this book is the feeling of it. As they road trip around the pacific northwest, Colby, Bev, and the sisters encounter the sort of uniquely weird cast of characters you really only see in road trip books or indie films -- there's the single mother who collects records, the guy who hosts gigs in his basement, and the tattoo artist just waiting for a chance to get out of his sleepy town. Along the way they also stumble upon a few mysteries: like, who is it that got a tattoo of The Rainclouds' (Colby's dad and uncle's tiny, old-school band) album cover? And, of course, Colby's unanswered question of why Bev decided to ditch Europe for college and why she felt like she couldn't tell him. These characters, the well-crafted settings, and the very essential questions that Colby struggles with (about himself, Bev, and growing up) make this, quite possibly, the best "road trip" YA I've read.

Music is sprinkled all over this story -- from the girls' own band that's loud enough to (sort of) make up for the fact that they sound awful, to the band Colby's dad and uncle had, to the girl bands that inspire the characters. Music is huge here and the book does such an incredibly good job of making it relevant and wonderful and make sense even if you know nothing about the music mentioned.

The development of Colby and Bev's characters as well as their relationship together is definitely one of the book's strengths. While for much of the book I couldn't stand Bev, the slow reveal of her reasons for college and the deeper parts of her personality were done so well that by the end of the book, though I'm still not sure I'd say I like her exactly, I definitely understood her quite a bit better. The characters in this book -- not just Bev, but all of them -- are like real people. They're a little bit broken, a little bit lost, but so full of love and hope and never-giving-up-ness that makes both them and the novel beautiful and heartbreaking and real all at once. I love this book.

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