All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013
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The first book in an exciting YA trilogy, this is the story of two best friends on the verge of a terrifying divide when they begin to encounter a cast of strange and mythical characters.
Set against the lush, magical backdrop of the Pacific Northwest, two inseparable best friends who have grown up like sisters—the charismatic, mercurial, and beautiful Aurora and the devoted, soulful, watchful narrator—find their bond challenged for the first time ever when a mysterious and gifted musician named Jack comes between them. Suddenly, each girl must decide what matters most: friendship, or love. What both girls don’t know is that the stakes are even higher than either of them could have imagined. They’re not the only ones who have noticed Jack’s gift; his music has awakened an ancient evil—and a world both above and below which may not be mythical at all. The real and the mystical; the romantic and the heartbreaking all begin to swirl together, carrying the two on journey that is both enthralling and terrifying.
And it’s up to the narrator to protect the people she loves—if she can.
All Our Pretty Songs was certainly a strange little book. It was touted as a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, and while there were little signs that pointed toward this being a retelling, I wouldn’t necessarily have tied this to the original story of Orpheus. The book was also oddly written and laid out, with a lot going on, to the point where you could have looked at it as being a trippy drug journey instead of anything to do with mythology. But as a mythology lover, I chose to take the appearances of Minos and Hades literally, which – for me – made this a much more enjoyable read. Of course, the narrative structure isn’t going to work for everyone, so please feel free to take what I write in this review with a grain of salt!
First off, this book is narrated by an unnamed narrator, which was strange to get used to and yet worked. It worked because she – I’m going to call her N for Narrator – really only saw herself in terms of her best friend, Aurora. Compared to Aurora, N is nothing: Aurora is beautiful, N is not. Aurora draws people in, N pushes them away. N spends most of the book comparing herself to Aurora and – in her mind – coming up desperately short in every single aspect. N is so in love with Aurora – platonically, mind – that she fails to see Aurora’s faults and doesn’t see just how damaged and hurt Aurora is. It is Aurora’s pain that draws Minos to her, and thus begins N’s struggle with Minos to keep Aurora from literally falling into hell. The Orpheus part of this story comes from Jack, a guitar player/singer who is so talented that he, too, grabs the attention of Minos. However, unlike Orpheus, Jack makes a deal to send himself to hell because he wants to – for his music, and his future – and not because he’s trying to save someone else. It is N who tries to save both Jack and Aurora, although it is Aurora who plays the Eurydice character here.
The biggest issue with this book is that the narrative is told completely stream of consciously. The prose is gorgeous, full of magical descriptions that really set the dreamy, myth-like setting. The story also has a bit of time out of place feel, because Aurora’s dad was a rockstar from the Grunge era, so while the book is set in modern times (or at least I think it is), it feels like the early 90s, not only because of the lifestyle Aurora and her mom, Maia, are living, but also because of all the references to the music of that time period. N also dresses in old band shirts, blasts Earth on her headphones, and makes references to hair metal bands that she and Aurora go and see. As such, I fear that this book will become quickly dated; already most teens aren’t going to get the music references. This could cause even more of a disconnect to the story than the strange storytelling style, and probably factors in to most of the dislike I’ve seen for this book.
However, for me personally, there was just something about this book that worked. I’m not even certain I can put into words why I liked it so much. I just know that I did. Perhaps it was N’s journey to try to save Aurora, only to realize that she needs to save herself instead. Perhaps it was the relationship between her and Raoul, who is a pretty awesome best friend to have waiting in the wings. Maybe it was the all-encompassing fall into true love that N experiences with Jack, even if I didn’t always buy the relationship. I don’t go for insta-love, but I can certainly understand being so smitten with someone that everything else ceases to exist, and I felt like that fall was written extremely well in this book. Whatever it was, I enjoyed this book a lot, although I know that puts me firmly in the minority.
If you’re interested in stories that take a bit longer to get to the point, and take a rather roundabout way to get there, then this book might be for you. N isn’t exactly the strongest narrator, because of her view of herself, but I still liked watching her fight for those she loved. Add in some gorgeous prose, a unique way of retelling a famous myth, and All Our Pretty Songs was definitely a hit for me!
A finished copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.