Friday, March 4, 2011

[Review] Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly

Title: Harmonic Feedback
Author: Tara Kelly
Publication (dd/mm/yy): 19/05/10
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Price: $17.99
Source: Won
Age: 16+
Pages: 280
My Rating:


Sixteen-year-old, music- and sound design-obsessed Drea doesn’t have friends. She has, as she’s often reminded, issues. Drea’s mom and a rotating band of psychiatrists have settled on “a touch of Asperger’s.”

Having just moved to the latest in a string of new towns, Drea meets two other outsiders. And Naomi and Justin seem to actually like Drea. The three of them form a band after an impromptu, Portishead-comparison-worthy jam after school. Justin swiftly challenges not only Drea’s preference for Poe over Black Lab but also her perceived inability to connect with another person. Justin, against all odds, may even like like Drea.

It’s obvious that Drea can’t hide behind her sound equipment anymore. But just when she’s found not one but two true friends, can she stand to lose one of them?

My thoughts: 

Drea has never been good with people: always the "odd sock", the social misfit, the freak. She doesn't need her mother to remind her, and others, of her additional "disclaimer" -- that she has been admitted, by professionals, with a hint of Asperger's. Drea doesn't get why she's always had such a hard time understanding the unspoken language of being socially adept; she prefers to stick to her love of music over conforming along with all the "common denominators" anyway . . . . But along with her latest move with her mum, for the first time she finds people who seem to care about her.

That cover is perfect for the book. It really takes on a new meaning once you've read through it. Sure, one look at the cover and I knew I needed to read it, but now? Now, it's become more, a little bit more special. I've always loved this cover, and the presentation of the book in itself is lovely. The jacket flap has a sort of sheen to it. Not incredibly shiny (like Unearthly), but really smooth.

The characters are well-drawn out and have depth and complexities to them that I really appreciated and is really, really important in a contemporary novel. Drea is snarly and keeps to herself. I liked her character a whole lot, and I found it hard not to as Kelly so very easily gave Drea vulnerabilities that elicited sympathy towards her. Her neighbour and to-be best friend, Naomi, was a little bit different. She had that same love of music that Drea had, but she's airy and reckless and fun. Then there is Justin, who Drea meets on her, and his, first day of school. He's cool enough and I love their moments together. The interactions between these best friends seemed genuine and realistic.

The story is groundbreaking and chilled me to the bone. Kelly knows how to create a quiet story that slowly creeps up on you. You don't even realise that something has changed until something big has occurred. To me, a great contemporary novel is one that is quiet and full of precise little moments, and dramatic and life-altering scenes when the author has built the characters up with personalities and lives and you get them. There was a lot of head-shaking in this book, because drugs and smoking and booze play quite a big part in among all the music and friendship and boy-craziness. And that's fine, because it shapes the characters and gave the book a whole different edge, claiming a place in with the title, "older YA". This is one of those books I can see getting censored in the future, which would be a shame because it's powerful and is so much more than the partying and drugs.

At its core, Harmonic Feedback is about finding a place in the world: having friends for the first time in for ever; hiding inside a hobby or passion (e.g. music); not wanting to let a supposed mental disorder define who you are. Kelly understands this. She knows what it's like to be thrown into a box for being different. This book is quite a heavy read, but it's one I'd definitely read again, and I'll be looking out for Amplified, which is Kelly's second novel coming out in 2011.

First Line

"ONE IN THIRTY-EIGHT. Bet on a single number in roulette, and those are the odds of winning. Getting struck by lightning is a little more difficult--one in seven hundred thousand. Winning the lottery? Forget it."


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I have received this review copy in return for an honest review.

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