The Story: Strange Sweet Song, by Adi Rule, is a stand-alone novel about Sing da Navelli, a teenage soprano who attends the prestigious, yet equally mysterious, Dunhammond Conservatory in order to harness her craft even though she is the child of two accomplished musicians. But things at Dunhammond are not what they appear, and soon Sing must face the school’s strange history as she prepares to take on a role that her mother died soon after performing.
My Take: I confess that even though this turned out to be a DNF for me, I actually read about 40% of the novel (which isn’t very long) and I really tried to like the characters and strove to make sense of the plot. However, about halfway through I paged through the book to read the ending, just to finally put all of the intertwined narratives to rest. Needless to say, I was underwhelmed and kind of glad I didn’t try to purposely peruse the novel in its entirety.
The basic premise of this book, to be fair, was intriguing and sounded vastly different from the usual YA urban fantasy-esque novels I tend to be drawn to initially then eventually turn away from in frustration. I will give Strange Sweet Song this – it presents a unique set of circumstances and has a heroine with an interesting background (she is the daughter of a deceased opera diva, so now she is expected to carry on the family name and talent). However, I have to take a few steps back when the main character, who is known for having a beautiful voice, is named Sing.
Likewise, the chief setting for this novel is the prestigious Dunhammond Conservatory; thus, this book does possess hallmarks of the school day’s novel (where the bulk of the action occurs in a school setting and deals with school-related matters). In and of itself, this isn’t problematic and to its credit, Dunhammond possesses a mystical quality to it that I enjoyed. But behind its walls, we engage the usual high school drama that populates much of YA fiction these days – mousy girls, mean girls, beautiful boyfriends, cheating scum, etc. I suppose if I was within the targeted age for this novel, I might find all of that far more interesting, but as an adult, I just look at it for what it is – teenage immaturity.
Nothing about the characters, Sing included, really stood out to me, which was part of the reason I opted to fast forward to the novel’s ending. My other issue with this book was its pacing and plot structure. This is a novel for very patient readers who enjoy having the chief mysteries of a story unfold over time rather than having it delivered via bombshells. I take no issue with slowly-developed plots and I can enjoy a prolonged mystery provided the other story elements hold my interest. But when the characters here fell more to the I’ve-seen-this-before end of the spectrum, I tried to rely on the plot to keep my interest afloat.
Now, I’m all for originality and I will give this story props for not sticking 100% to the usual YA fare that seems to flood the market these days. But when the fantastical suddenly gets welded with the everyday, that’s where my suspension of disbelief can become strained. By way of example, I can accept that a seemingly everyday wardrobe can transport the Pensive siblings to Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I can accept that such a realm has talking beasts, an evil witch, and a lion king. I can accept all of that because the world-building allows me to. The mundane is married to the magical because the latter assumes more presence over the former, so it works and it’s believable.
In the case of Strange Sweet Song, the mundane takes up more space and presence than the magical, so much so that when magical elements, such as when a wish-granting space cat appears, my mind is jarred from the usual school days novel structure and YA stereotypes. It’s not willing to accept that such elements are plausible given the fact that the bulk of the setting and characters are so everyday and commonplace. Hence, it reads like two different plot lines that wanted to converge but don’t connect in a way that’s satisfactory in terms of my suspension of disbelief. (But it’s been known be out of whack at times, so what do I know?)
That doesn’t mean I thought the novel was completely without value. The cover is gorgeous but it exudes a sense of ethereal mystery that the novel’s story doesn’t hold up to. The premise, again, was interesting but I was expecting more of paranormal/fantasy slant – judging by the back blurb – than what the novel delivered, at least through the portions I read. Likewise, Sing, to her credit, is a smart, talented, humble protagonist but she’s not particularly memorable and neither is anyone else in the book. So, all in all, Strange Sweet Song wasn’t nearly as strange or sweet as I had been hoping for.
Content: As far as content is concerned, I can only comment on the portions I read, which seemed devoid of language, violence, or sexual content. However, because I ended up paging through the latter portions of the novel, there might have been elements present that I’m not aware of.
Overall, Strange Sweet Song does try to become lighter Gothic YA fare and it succeeds at that for the most part. But its diverging narratives, eventually conventional YA characters, and abrupt additions of magical/mysterious elements caused me to lose interest. And even a wish-granting space cat couldn’t help put my broken interest back together again.