Recommendation Tuesday: The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing by C.K. Kelly Martin
Recommendation Tuesday started as a joke and is now an official thing. Basically, this is my way of making Tuesday a little more awesome. If you've got a book to recommend on this or any Tuesday, tweet me at @FullShelves and I'll help spread the word.
Quiet books aren't the trend right now, but they're still my favorites.
One of the real masters of quiet YA novels is C.K. Kelly Martin, who's been writing for a long time, but is deserving of far more acclaim and attention than she receives. So, it's no surprise that her latest, The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing, is another excellent, subtle novel that fans of contemporary YA shouldn't miss.
Serena is a 15 year old living in a Toronto suburb, who's recently lost about 30 pounds and gained a margin of popularity as a result, including a boyfriend. When her boyfriend tries to put her in an exploitative position, she dumps him, and seeks out the friendship of another girl who wasn't so lucky to avoid having a video of her shared around school.
In addition, Serena's family is fractured, the whereabouts of her older brother Devin, with whom she was close, a mystery, causing her mother to disengage from life, focusing only on collecting animal figurines and her grief. To escape the stress of her family situation--and to save up for a vintage powder blue Vespa--she gets a job at a drugstore, where she meets Gage, an older guy whose life, "baggage" and expectations are far different than she imagined.
The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing captures a moment in Serena's life where she discovers that who she's supposed to be and what she wants aren't nearly the same thing, while also critiquing the tension between the sexualization and shaming of teen girls.
That's a lot for a short, 250-page, novel, but it works.
What was especially fascinating to me was the deft handling of Serena's relationship with Gage. She plays to what she believes are his expectations, being that he's several years older than him. Serena tells him she's older than she really is and is tries to push their relationship in a direction on their first date that's beyond what he wants. It's a quick scene, but it illuminates the aforementioned tension that girls face in terms of social expectations. Gage pushing her away is shocking and confusing for her, and she has to figure out how to negotiate it all. I love that their relationship is complicated and a bit of a mess in a way that rings authentic, since neither of them is in the best of places.
Few authors build and unfurl backstory as deftly as Martin does. She slowly lets the readers into Serena's world and we don't get the whole picture until far into the novel. It's a little thing, but it's yet another reason why her writing is so special.
In the end, even though I'm far older than Serena, I felt like she struggled with so much than women in contemporary culture grapple with all the time. And while it's solidly YA (this is a great one to give to the teenagers in your life), it's a novel that lots of folks will see a bit of themselves in terms of the questions Serena's asking herself: What do I want for myself? What are my boundaries? What I will I tolerate from other people? How do I find my own voice?
Note: The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing is published by a Canadian publisher, so you may have a hard time finding it in bookstores in the U.S. It's available in both paperback and ebook on Amazon, however. If you haven't read a C.K. Kelly Martin book before, this would be a good place to start, or the fantastic One Lonely Degree, The Lighter Side of Life and Death, or her lone novel for adults (and one of my favorite books), Come See About Me.