BookBrowse Reviews Wonderful Feels Like This by Sara Lovestam

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Wonderful Feels Like This

by Sara Lovestam

Wonderful Feels Like This by Sara Lovestam X
Wonderful Feels Like This by Sara Lovestam
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2017, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2018, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Michelle Anya Anjirbag
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A novel that celebrates being a little bit odd, finding your people, and the power of music to connect us.

High school is hard; or perhaps, more accurately, growing up and finding oneself is hard. This is one of the truest universal experiences for us – no matter in what country or what era we come of age. Sara Lövestam's first US novel, Wonderful Feels Like This, explores two musicians growing into themselves in two different times, connected by the love of jazz that they share. Steffi is a young girl in 21st century Sweden who survives daily bullying by focusing on her music, especially jazz. One day, on her way home from school, she hears her favorite musician playing her favorite composer's music through a window in a retirement community, and befriends Alvar, an elderly man who was a jazz musician in Stockholm during WWII. This meeting blossoms into the friendship that both Alvar and Steffi desperately need; connected through jazz, the music of outcasts, Alvar's stories of his past fuel Steffi's dreams for her future.

Steffi visits Alvar regularly, and as she pushes him to tell her about his life as a musician in the early days of Stockholm's jazz scene, she finds a space to start speaking honestly about her own experience in her small school. She begins to look at music as her way into something larger. Alvar's stories and encouragement help Steffi find the confidence to audition for a music school in Stockholm, and the strength to finally face her tormenters. Alvar also helps her look at cycles of bullying as she traces where the threads of his history blend with her own. In return, she gives him a refuge beyond his music, by listening with him and sharing her own music. Thus, Alvar's life, like his music, will go on and be remembered by someone who truly understands what drove him to leave home and start playing jazz in Stockholm during WWII.

The power of this book is that it is simultaneously disorienting in myriad ways while still remaining approachable in its exploration of the universal human experience. For a non-Scandinavian native English-speaking reader, despite being written in English, there is just enough culture shock, just enough difference in the ins and outs of daily life, that the reader's attention is drawn to how Steffi's experience is different, but also how some things, such as bullying, feeling isolated, dealing with people who don't understand you, and fearing pursuing dreams are the same for everyone, everywhere. This experience of "different but the same" is reiterated in the stories Alvar narrates from his past. A young man from a small town, his dreams get him thrown into the world of hepcats and pomade and the pursuit of perfect moments when, at any moment, life could be altered irrevocably by events beyond anyone's control.

If the book has any weakness, it is that there were moments where Lövestam could have pushed some scenes further. Instead of giving the reader only a taste of Steffi's psyche in some of her challenging moments, she could have given readers more detail that they would certainly be able to empathize with. Exploring some darker themes more fully might have added a layer of depth that is often skimmed but never quite reached. However, it is almost fitting that a text about two people motivated to learn more, to strive for more in their lives, and who chase fleeting, perfect moments through music, ends without stopping for too long on life's challenges, and leaves readers wanting more from Sara Lövestam.

This review was originally published in May 2017, and has been updated for the July 2018 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  Jazz, Sweden, and WWII

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