Hey guys, today is my slot on the Street Song blog tour and I’ve got a review and author Q&A for you all! This is actually the first blog tour I’ve ever taken part in so I was thrilled when Black and White publishing got in touch. These were the lovely promo materials they sent me:
Here’s the Goodreads synopsis:
When life goes off-key, change your tune.
RyLee’s career is over. After winning a national TV talent show and becoming a teen pop sensation, his fame and success has quickly been followed by addiction, media scrutiny, and career suicide. After a brief spell in rehab, 18-year-old Ryan has some rethinking to do. His stepdad – music promoter and self-appointed creator of ‘RyLee’ – wants him at home and in school, and under his thumb. But after an argument descends into violence, Ryan decides to run away from his old life, his failed career, and his dysfunctional family.
When he meets the stunningly witty but distinctly average guitar-player Toni almost directly outside his front door, the opportunity to start afresh seems too good to pass up. Before long, he has arrived in a new city, joined Toni’s amazingly talented band, and reinvented himself under the name ‘Cal’. For the first time in his life Ryan has friends around him, he’s playing the music he’s always wanted to play, and – despite living in a hostel, busking for his wages, and living under a false identity – he’s finally happy.
But just when Ryan feels like he has truly started over, his past begins to catch up with him.
(Just a heads up, the review and Q&A both contain very minor spoilers.)
Author: Sheena Wilkinson
Genre: YA, Romance, Thriller
Publication date: April 20th 2017
Read: March 21st – March 23rd 2017
Street Song is about Ryan Lee, a pop sensation who fell from grace after media pressure ushered him towards addiction. When his home life turns violent, Ryan runs away, forming a new identity for himself as casual musician ‘Cal’. While busking, he meets fellow guitarist Toni and, after a brief jam session, leaves behind his old identity to embark upon a new life in a different city. As Cal prepares to perform in one of the country’s biggest musical contests with Toni’s band, he realises that his troubles are far from gone.
Although this novel may sound like a light YA romp, it explores some very serious social issues in a thought-provoking and earnest manner. Sheena Wilkinson examines poverty, homelessness, addiction, and abuse through the lens of a vulnerable teenager and her book gives an incredibly gritty portrayal of how tough these issues can be on mental and physical health. I would add a warning here, that while the social commentary on these issues is powerful, if you feel they could be triggering in any way, approach the book with caution.
The burgeoning character development throughout the book was excellent. Cal’s character starts out as a misguided, arrogant teen, spending much of the opening chapters dejectedly comparing his past triumphs with his current failures. But by the end of the novel he’s a changed person – and definitely a change for the better. His transformation from selfish to selfless, apathetic to empathetic is spurred on by his experience of hardships and a new appreciation for music.
The book maximises its use of setting, offering detailed narration of the Belfast and Dublin through their streets and landmarks. I’ve never been to Ireland but I could picture the urban landscapes and got a real sense of their character. Although lagging at times, the pacing skyrockets during more dramatic scenes and the narrative is simple and readable, if a little tame. (Perhaps I’ve just been reading too many fantasy books recently, but I would have liked a few more dynamic metaphors.)
The book incorporates feminism splendidly through the character of Toni, who constantly challenges gender stereotypes. There were often times at the beginning of the novel when Cal used sexist microaggressions to undermine other women, but every single time this happened (while she was present) Toni called them out. She challenged his ideas about traditional gender roles and make him aware of his own prejudice. Toni is one of the main reasons for Cal’s character growth and she easily ended up my favourite character.
My main criticism of the novel would be that it lacks diversity. Although there are hints at LGBT+ romance and one of the characters openly identifies as gay, there’s little racial and cultural diversity present and this narrows the scope of the novel.
Despite this, Street Song remains an enjoyable coming-of-age novel about overcoming adversity and finding solace in music. At times, it’s an intensely emotional read that evokes empathy from readers and serves to remind us of our privileges. If you love bands, songwriting and music in general this will be one for you.
Thanks to Black and White Publishing for sending me a review copy of the book!
Sheena Wilkinson, the author of Street Song, was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the inspiration behind the novel.
1. Music is a huge part of the novel Street Song and you mention that it’s been a big part of your life too, what originally sparked your love of music?
I’ve always loved singing, and spent a lot of time at university going to folk clubs and gigs. Like a lot of Irish people I grew up going to music sessions. My dad would regularly take me to a pub session on a school night. In my twenties and thirties I helped run a folk club with some friends.
2. Following on from that, what would you say is your favourite musical genre? Any unique or unusual bands you like?
As you might guess from the above answers, folk music was probably my first love, though as a teenager I was obsessed by pop music too, though always the more indie side of things. I actually have pretty wide tastes, though I tend to go for something with a bit of a story – I always like songs that are ABOUT something, just like the characters in Street Song do. In the book, I deliberately kept it fairly vague – nothing dates a book as much as cultural references that don’t last, and anyway I am not a YOUNG adult now and I was never going to try to get down with the kids. I LOVE country music – have been obsessed with Nashville (the TV series). Whatever the genre, making music with people is very intense, and that’s what I wanted to capture in the book.
3. The novel deals with some pretty important social issues, such as running away from home. What made you want to explore this particular issue in depth?
I like to write about people being pushed to their limits. When you take away their normal support structures you see what they are made of. Funnily enough, the idea for Cal to experience homelessness came long before the idea to have made him – albeit briefly – ‘famous’. It was my agent who suggested that it would be more powerful if he had actually been used to being quite well off. That suggestion really made the story fly. Thanks, Faith! All my books deal with pretty gritty issues — in Street Song, as well as homelessness, the biggest is grooming, in various senses.
4. Toni is one of the main female characters in the novel, and she comes across as a spirited feminist. Is feminism important to you and did you draw your inspiration for her from anywhere (or anyone)?
Yes, absolutely! I’ve always been a feminist, ever since I knew what it meant. I went to International Women’s Day marches when I was about fifteen. Toni is actually very like me in many ways! I think she is the closest I have come to putting my own teenage self in a book. On a more serious note, I remember learning about the suffragettes in school, and it never really occurred to me that any woman wouldn’t be a feminist.
5. Finally, the novel draws on setting very heavily and creates some vivid images of urban Ireland, did you go to each city to do research or did you write these scenes from experience?
I like books which evoke the setting clearly. Street Song could happen in any city in the world, in some ways, but I think the story is made more powerful because I know its setting. I grew up in Belfast and though I tend to be vague or even to make up place names, I always see the places I write about very vividly, and I hope that helps make it vivid for the reader.
Sheena Wilkinson’s novel Street Song is available now from Black and White Publishing.
Follow the tour!