Author: Vanessa Jones
Publisher: MacMillan Children’s Books
Publication Date: 18th April 2019
This book was received from the publisher in return for an honest review
About the book:
Make your mark. Raise your voice. Fame and Glee meets Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl in former West End actress Vanessa Jones’ YA novel, Sing (Like No One’s Listening).
Since her mother died, Nettie Delaney hasn’t been able to sing a note. This wouldn’t be a problem if she wasn’t now attending Dukes, the most prestigious performing arts college in the country, with her superstar mother’s shadow hanging over her. Nettie has her work cut out for her and everyone is watching.
But one night, in an empty studio after college, Nettie finds herself suddenly singing, as someone behind the curtain accompanies her on the piano. Maybe all is not lost for Nettie. Maybe she can find her voice again and survive her first year at Dukes. But can she do it before she gets thrown out?
A novel about dreaming a dream, finding and raising your voice, and not throwing away your shot!
What I Thought:
I’m going to preface this review with a few trigger warnings, which I don’t normally do but probably should try to do more of. SING (Like No One’s Listening) contains the aftermath of parental death, bullying, one instance of physical abuse and potential eating disorders. Now perhaps seeing as it’s a book about a prestigious performing arts academy I should have foreseen at least the latter of my warnings but I didn’t and given my history with a friend who nearly died from anorexia after her ballet teacher told her she was too big to make it professionally, the ballet teacher saying some quite vile things to Nettie, including about her weight hit me hard and I had to put the book down for a while and come back to it.
Nettie’s mum dies suddenly from cancer, moving from diagnosis to death in only a few weeks. Following her mother’s passing Nettie is forced to live with her grandmother, a woman she barely knowns and insists on being referred to as Auntie. There’s only one thing Nettie wants to do and that’s to secure herself a place at Duke’s, a prestigious performing arts college. There’s only one problem, on the day of her audition she loses her voice, she simply cannot sing, the words won’t come out. By some miracle she makes it into the college and the book follows her through her first year as she tries to find her voice.
Considering the amount of time that passes over the course of the book the plot moves on fairly rapidly, with key points of the year being covered, despite the pace at which the book moves at no point did I feel short changed or that I would have liked more time to be spent on a section. I really enjoyed seeing the day to day life within the school, plus the build up to some of their major events.
There’s a great variety of characters introduced in the book, with both students and teachers to meet. Nettie or Antoinette Sylvie Moira Delaney-Richardson to give her her full name, is the central character and what a wonderful central character she makes in my opinion. She wants to succeed and do her mother proud, she’s aware of the dancing legacy her mother has left, the expectations people have as soon as they hear her name, and she knows that’s not where her talents lie. Instead her talents lie firmly with music, throughout the book, even when she can’t sing it’s clear she’s got what it takes to be a talented song writer. But most importantly for me, and the reason I connected with her, is that she is kind. No matter what is thrown at her she remains supportive of her friends, and stands up for herself. Even when her friends are rejoicing at something going wrong for one of the girls who bullies her, she can’t bring herself to enjoy it, she still feels bad for her.
Fletch, who wouldn’t want a guy like Fletch in their lives? He’s cute and talented. He also has his own experience of grief that lets him connect with Nettie in a unique way. I’m definitely fond of him but there are still moments where I would have liked to have given him a gentle shake
Kiki, Alec and Leon become Nettie’s support system and I enjoyed them all. Kiki was the hardest of the three characters for me to read, because of my personal history, and at points I did worry for her, I was very pleased she had a friend like Nettie constantly reminding her how beautiful she is. Alec is one of the characters who probably comes closest to being a stereotype, as the gay ballet dancer, that said he’s out, he’s proud and yes he’s a little risqué and says things he probably shouldn’t get away with but his heart is in the right place, plus the little bit of backstory we get about his time at school makes it that bit harder not to love him. Then we have Leon who is the one in this group that I felt we saw the least, we get a little of his family life though and I’d love to delve a little deeper into that but there’s a time and a place and this story wasn’t it.
Jade and Natasha – they’re definitely stereotypical mean girls. They take a dislike to Nettie because she doesn’t immediately bow to their word as senior students and stands up for themselves. I wish I could say some of what they do is unbelievable, and it is in one sense, but having known a girl decide to crack an egg into my friend’s backpack just because she could, it’s not unrealistic. Would part of me like some deep backstory to explain why the pair of them are the way they are, absolutely, but the fact is some people are just not nice… and I feel that’s the case here…
The last character I’m going to talk about is Millicent Moore, the ballet teacher. She is without doubt the character I found the most problematic. I don’t think she’s necessarily an unrealistic character but I certainly struggled to read the hatred that she showed Nettie. It’s becomes clear within the story that there is a history between her and Nettie’s mum but we never get to discover what it is. To be honest whatever may have happened in the past cannot excuse her actions in the book, I’m not sure there’s anyway she can be redeemed in my eyes…
Finally I was very lucky to receive this book from the publishers on NetGalley but there were some issues with the formatting. A couple of paragraphs seemed to be in the wrong order, so the narrative took a strange jump in a couple of places, fortunately it was only a page or so out so not too difficult to work out the correct order. The book also contains text messages between some of the characters and for some reason the eARC contained be black squares with some text around but it wasn’t the easiest to work out who was saying what, and there were a couple of messages where I felt like part of the message may have been missing. I feel it’s only fair to mention that as I think it may have slightly affected my overall enjoyment of the book.
Overall I enjoyed SING (Like No One’s Listening). Yes some of the characters are probably a little cliched but that doesn’t mean they’re not authentic at the same time. I would argue Vanessa is far better placed to judge that that I. I really grew to like Nettie and although the plot wrapped up nicely I still didn’t feel quite done with Nettie’s story, I definitely still have some questions about her mother’s past so I was very pleased to discover a short extract from a sequel hiding after the last chapter. I’ll be sure to get my hands on DANCE (Like No One’s Watching) once it’s released.
About The Author
Vanessa Jones was born and raised in Kent. After training at Laine Theatre Arts, she went on to be a Musical Theatre actor in West End shows, including Sister Act,Grease, Guys and Dolls, Annie Get Your Gun and Mary Poppins, where she met (and married!) a fellow chimney sweep. She now lives in East Sussex with her sweep and their two children. Sing Like No One’s Listening is her first YA novel.
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