Robin Talley, Music from Another World, HQ Young Adult, 978-1848457218
I have just finished listening to the audio version of Robin Talley’s Music from Another World performed by Jayme Mattler and Emily Lawrence. I really enjoyed it and couldn’t stop listening. I strongly recommend the book.
At first, I was concerned that a novel revolving around one theme, homosexuality, however interesting, might be ‘one dimensional’, but other themes surfaced like the insidious effect of having to keep one’s true nature secret. Progressively, an underlying theme emerged, the struggle for empowerment of the young in the face of belittling if not debilitating limitations imposed by adults, the community, society and religion. Very rapidly, the depth of the characters, the richness of the descriptions and this ever-present struggle against fixed ideas wielded like battle axes and a halting quest for identity, meant that the story not only had both depth and breadth but was gripping.
The whole novel is built around letters and diary entries. But what characterizes letter or diary writing? It’s the absent ‘you’ being addressed in a one-sided or delayed dialogue. That ‘you’ is a specific person, even in the case of a diary where it is the book personified. Both that absence and the waiting for a reply add to the growing force drawing the two protagonists together but also keeping them apart.
In many novels the readers are unknown and rarely hailed as ‘you’. The addressing of someone else is not important to narrating the story. There are moments when Talley crosses this line, shifting away from writing for that privileged ‘other’ to a first-person narrative including dialogue. Periodically, she returns to addressing the recipient of the message as a reminder that it’s a letter or a diary.
But Talley’s book is a novel. These letters and diary entries are given to us to read, placing us in a strange position with the ‘you’ sandwiched between us and the writer of the letter. This form of storytelling creates an exciting framework that fits the themes addressed, particularly those of keeping and revealing secrets and the discovery of one’s veritable nature. The story-line cleverly maintains the tension even when the two letter-writers come together by forcing them to continue writing to each other. Caught up as we are in the story, the shift from letter to story and the presence of that yearned for ‘you’ maintained at a distance by letter-writing further increases the tension between the two girls that is the driving force of the book.