Guitar Notes

I am a firm believer in the power of music. And when I encounter a book that shines a light on that, I tend to devour it. That was definitely the case with Guitar Notes by Mary Amato.

This nominee for the 14-15 South Carolina Junior Book Award focuses on Tripp, a young guitar player, and Lyla, a talented young cello player.

These two young people use the same school practice room on opposite days. Tripp is playing a borrowed guitar (his mom took his away) and is only concerned with playing for his own enjoyment. Lyla, on the other hand, is feeling some intense pressure to further her career as a world-class cello player. She’s got some big auditions coming up, and she’s supposed to be using the practice room to get her pieces absolutely perfect. Things change, though, when Tripp and Lyla begin leaving notes for each other in their little room…

At first, the notes are kind of snarky. Tripp thinks of Lyla as Little Miss Perfect, and Lyla sees Tripp as something of an oddity. The two trade barbs and, in the process, learn a little more about each other. Pretty soon, they are exploring a tentative friendship and challenging each other to really explore their musical connection. Lyla puts her cello aside for a bit and focuses on learning to play the guitar and writing songs with Tripp. These two young people bond through music, and they find a friendship that might just turn out to change their entire lives.

As so often happens, though, circumstances arise that try to drive these two friends apart. Other friends don’t understand their connection, their parents are rather clueless (and are often doing more damage than they probably realize), and both Tripp and Lyla are facing pressures that feel insurmountable at times. Music, though, continues to bring them together…even when things seem impossibly bleak.

Join Tripp and Lyla on this musical journey that will take them through friendships old and new, family drama, and even a bit of adventure. They will learn so much about each other, themselves, and the music that ties them together, and this bond will see them through good times and bad. Tripp and Lyla will see the true power of music, and they may just share that with everyone around them…

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Guitar Notes really spoke to me as a musician. No, I’m not a guitar or cello player. (I had a brief interlude with the violin, but that resulted in people thinking I was torturing a cat.) I have, however, been a brass player since I was twelve, so I know a little something about how music can fill a person up, bring emotions to the surface, and make everything a bit clearer. That’s what I saw in Tripp and Lyla in this book. I think any musician, young or old, who reads this book will see what I did–two young people finally discovering their voices and realizing how much music really means to them.

Guitar Notes was, at times, an emotional ride. I laughed, I cried, I commiserated, and I even got angry. I couldn’t stand Annie, Lyla’s so-called best friend. I wanted to slap her every time she made an appearance. She was just so bossy. Kind of reminded me of one of my best friends in school. Ugh.

I also wasn’t a fan of Tripp’s mom through most of the book. I get that she wanted him to improve his grades, but taking music away from him to make that happen? No, no, no. If anything, that did more damage, and it’s been proven that music actually improves brain function. (Look it up.) Eventually, Tripp’s mom “woke up” and saw just how much the guitar and Lyla’s friendship meant to her son, but it took way to much for her to finally see the light. Just my two cents.

I highly recommend Guitar Notes to any reader–probably fifth grade and up–who has a passion for music. This book definitely has a place in upper elementary, middle, and even high school classrooms and libraries. I would also urge music teachers to read this book and recommend it to their chorus, band, and orchestra students.

I am thrilled that this book earned a spot on this year’s South Carolina Junior Book Award nominee list. It’s a wonderful book that shines a light on just what music can do in a young person’s life.

Mary Amato’s next book, Get Happy, also has a musical theme, and it will be out in October. Thanks to NetGalley, I’ll be diving into that one soon, so stay tuned!

For more information on Guitar Notes and other works by Mary Amato, check out her website.

Where She Went

Please, please, please read If I Stay before you read this post or the book I’m talking about.  (Actually, you should read If I Stay anyway.  It’s an amazing book.)  Where She Went is the sequel, and you definitely need to read the first book to put everything in context.

I read Gayle Forman’s award-winning novel If I Stay nearly two years ago.  At the time, I was awed by the story’s quiet intensity, and this book has stayed with me ever since.  I have recommended this book to countless people, both teens and adults, and I haven’t heard a negative comment yet.  Mia’s story, of choosing whether to live alone or join her family in death, is one that makes all of us think and wonder what we would do in a similar situation.

Just this week, I began reading the sequel, Where She Went.  This story follows Adam, the boyfriend who stood by Mia’s side during the accident, and subsequent surgeries and therapies.  Now, however, it’s three years later, and Adam’s life is falling apart.  He and Mia are no longer together, and ever since they parted ways, his life has been in a downward spiral.  On the surface, everything looks great.  He’s a world-renowned “rock star,” he has the popular Hollywood girlfriend, and he’s got more money than he knows how to spend…but he’s never been more alone, and he’s close to his breaking point.

As Adam is walking down a street in New York, a poster catches his eye.  Mia’s face is staring back at him.  She’s playing a concert at Carnegie Hall that very night.  Call it fate, coincidence, or divine intervention, Adam buys a ticket to Mia’s concert, and the two come face to face for the first time in three years.  The night that follows this meeting will bring up some painful memories, demons that need to be laid to rest, and a small hope for redemption.  Adam and Mia will finally talk about what happened, why she stayed, and, eventually, why she left him.  Can Adam and Mia put the past to rest?  And is there hope for a future beyond the pain of the past?  Read Where She Went by Gayle Forman to find out.

I don’t feel like I’ve adequately captured how gripping Where She Went was.  I had to read the last quarter of the book with my glasses off because I couldn’t stop crying.  Reading about what happened in Adam’s life was devastating, and hearing how Mia coped with what happened to her and her family was enlightening.  I feel safe in saying that I like this book even more than I did If I Stay.  It was absolutely wonderful.

For more information on Gayle Forman and her superb books, visit http://www.gayleforman.com/.

If I Stay

When I heard that Gayle Forman’s book, If I Stay, was being marketed as the next Twilight, of course I had to read it.  I enjoyed the book, but I have to say that I don’t think it has the power to generate the fan frenzy that Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga has.  (I’m a Twilighter myself, so I may be a bit biased on this one.)  I think most of the hype for If I Stay has come from the fact that Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke will be directing the novel’s movie adaptation.  Anyhoo, on to a quick look at If I Stay

It’s an atypical February morning in Mia’s life.  A bare dusting of snow has closed schools in her town in Oregon.  The whole family is together.  They decide to go for a drive, and tragedy strikes.   A car accident.  Mia is the only survivor.  She is airlifted to a hospital where the doctors do all they can for her.  Ultimately, though, it is Mia’s choice to stay or go.  She reflects back on her seventeen years, with her crazy, punk-rock family, her obsession with the cello and classical music, her best friend Kim, and her loving boyfriend Adam.  She looks at all of these things and makes her decision.  Will she choose to die and join her family?  Or will she stay?  What would you do?

I went into this book thinking that it couldn’t possibly live up to Twilight.  Well, it did, and it didn’t.  If I Stay was a moving book with a lot of emotional angst, but I can’t say that I was invested in the characters as much as I was with Bella and the Cullen clan.  Was this book well written?  Yes.  Will I recommend it to my students?  Absolutely.  Do I think it’s the next Twilight?  Not so much.  But that’s just my opinion.  I’ll leave you to decide for yourselves.