All Our Pretty Songs, by Sarah McCarry

ImageTwo girls without fathers grow up as if they were sisters, even though their mothers are now estranged. Aurora is beautiful and popular, while the unnamed narrator is strong and mean, a typical punk rocker. Their love seems to be unbreakable until the night they hear Jack play his guitar. His music is almost magical, drawing his audience into his spell, leaving rooms full of people silent and rapt. The narrator falls deeply in love, and for the first time in her life, she is tortured by the fear that a man will choose Aurora’s beauty over her. At the same time, Aurora is following in her mother’s footsteps by spiraling downward into serious drug use, clinging to a hideous older man who provides her with the dangerous substances she believes will help her to find her dead father in some other realm.  The narrator is desperate to save her.

McCarry’s debut novel is lyrically written, her gorgeous words drawing pictures on the page. At times, it was difficult to know whether certain scenes were drug trips or magical realism, since she slid from descriptions of ordinary parties in apartment buildings to bacchanalia in mystical forests and back again. The narrator’s emotions are forceful, and for the most part, worthy, but her task is to learn to love other people enough to let go, even if that means being completely alone.

This book is supposed to be the first part of a trilogy, but it stands on its own perfectly well — although the ending is somewhat ambiguous. The frequency and descriptions of drug use are overwhelming, even sickening, at times. There are two body types: thin and emaciated. The darkness of the dreams and the evil characters are truly frightening. As far as Printz-worthiness is concerned, the writing is certainly excellent, but the story itself was sometimes confusing and perhaps not as fleshed-out as some of the other contenders. Ms. McCarry is definitely a writer to watch, although I think I’ll wait for something not quite so agonizing next time.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. My opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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