Charlie Duskin is from the city. Rose Butler lives in the country. Charlie is quiet. Rose is loud. Charlie is poetic and musical. Rose is crass and blunt. The two girls could not be more different from one another - or so it seems.
A Little Wanting Song is a perfect story of loss, love and the process of learning how to communicate about them both. While they are different in obvious, outward ways, Charlie and Rose are alike in deeper, internal ways, both struggling with complicated emotions. Cath Crowley alternately narrates the story from both Charlie's and Rose's point of view, so the reader is able to get inside the heads of both girls in a fluid, organic, and extremely satisfying way.
Listen to the opening paragraph of the book: "Dad and I leave town in the early dark It's so early he's wiping hills of sand piled in the corners of his eyes. I wipe a few tears from mine. Tears don't pile, though. They grip and cling and slide in salty trails that I taste till the edge of the city." This is Charlie's voice. Charlie is a musician. She plays the guitar, sings, and writes songs. That first paragraph - Charlie's voice - sounds like a song. A Little Wanting Song is exactly that. Written in spare, lyrical language, the novel evokes the same kind of penetrating resonance that a song does. It's painfully honest. It's accessible. It's easy to read and then read again, sinking in even more deeply.
Listen, now, to the beginning of Rose's first chapter: "Of all the places in the world I could have been born, I get the drink and toilet stop capital of the world. Like my boyfriend, Luke, says, 'You got to be pissed about that.' I am pissed about it. Some days I'm so pissed, I throw rocks at the cars driving out because they get to leave and I don't." Rose's voice does not sound like a song, not by a long-shot.
So Charlie's chapters are musical; Rose's chapters are not - at first. Slowly, this changes. As Charlie becomes friends with Rose, as she falls in love, as she lets go of her painful past, and as she simply opens up more and more, her music opens out into the world. And as Rose changes and grows too, she feels that music and takes some of it in. This is where Crowley's writing and narrative structure really shines; because the story is told from both girls' points of view, their voices distinctly reflect their inner transformations.
Listen to Rose again, this time at the end of the book, describing Charlie's performance at the talent show: "It's like feeling the cool change come through your window on a night when you're hungry for a summer breeze. It's singing the color of sunrise." Rose's voice has, indeed, become a song too.
A Little Wanting Song leaves the reader deeply satisfied and only wanting more... of Cath Crowley.
This review was originally published in September 2010, and has been updated for the October 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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