Thursday, 2 August 2018

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Review: A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews

A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. DrewsNetGalleyA Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews (eProof) - An emotionally charged story of music, abuse and, ultimately, hope.

Beck hates his life. He hates his violent mother. He hates his home. Most of all, he hates the piano that his mother forces him to play hour after hour, day after day. He will never play as she did before illness ended her career and left her bitter and broken. But Beck is too scared to stand up to his mother, and tell her his true passion, which is composing his own music - because the least suggestion of rebellion on his part ends in violence.

When Beck meets August, a girl full of life, energy and laughter, love begins to awaken within him and he glimpses a way to escape his painful existence. But dare he reach for it?
From Goodreads.

Trigger Warning: This book features child abuse - violence and emotional abuse.

Ever since I heard A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews - or, as those in the blogosphere know her, Cait of Paper Fury - was being published, I've been desperate to read it. And I'm so, so, so happy to say that it's absolutely incredible.

On the orders of his mother, the Maestro, Beck is a pianist. Once a famous pianist herself, since a stroke left her with nerve damage, she has been unable to play, and is full of anger. As she can't play, Beck will, he must. Nothing is as important to the Maestro as the piano, and playing it perfectly - which Beck is incapable of, according the Maestro. No matter how much he practises, he is never good enough, and not being good enough is not acceptable. The Maestro rules with her fists and sharp words, both raining down on Beck whenever he disappoints her. Beck lives a miserable life, with no friends and no time for himself, as every second spent outside of school has to be spent practising. The only joy in Beck's life is his little sister, Joey, and the secret music he composes in his head. Music he can never let out. But then, when they are put together for a school project, Beck meets August, who turns his world upside down. She shows him kindness and affection, and doesn't disappear, no matter how rude he is to her. It's not something he's used to, and he's desperate for the friendship August offers. But if the Maestro finds out, the consequences could be severe.

I was really worried about reading A Thousand Perfect Notes. Because it's written by a fellow book blogger, I was scared about what I'd do if I didn't like it. But I needn't have worried, because it was just brilliant. A Thousand Perfect Notes is not an easy book to read. It's dark and upsetting, as you watch watch Beck's mother berate and abuse him over and over and over again. She doesn't have a kind word to say to him, constantly putting him down and swearing at him in German. Because of this, Beck has very low self-worth, and tends to believe what the Maestro tells him. He tries so hard to please her, thinking if he just got the pieces she wants him to play right, she might smile at him, or offer some praise. It never comes. It doesn't matter what he does, there is always something wrong with his playing, and he pays for it. Every. Single. Time. It's horrific, and it only gets worse as the story goes on.

It's also written incredibly beautifully. I'm used to Drews' writing from her blog, Paper Fury, so I was expecting something similar, and while I saw Drews in the lighter moments, it was completely different writing style. But of course it would be; one is a book, the other is her book blog. Even so, I was still amazed at Drews' writing - at the gorgeous imagery. It's a strange feeling, reading something so terrible and being so sad by it, but also delighting in the wonderful writing.
'If he stretches to care about something else - like what the Maestro thinks of him or how he fails at school or what he really wants to do with his life - he'd be pulled too thin. His skin will part like old paper and the world will see how his skeleton is made of dark wishes and macabre dreams. They'll know his heart thumps to the beat of the Maestro's metronome because it's too scared to do otherwise.
But worst?
They'll see the emptiness inside him.
Being a pianist is stitched on his skin, but his bones are tattooed with the whispers of
you fake, you fake.' (p17)*
This is just one example of Drews' ability to weave words into something beautiful, while also pulling so hard on your heart strings. This quote also gives a good idea of the mood throughout the novel. It is sad and upsetting, and just so awful.

But that doesn't mean the story is dark and horrifying throughout. When Beck meets August, she shines some light into his world. Because of his low self-esteem, he doesn't understand why she wants to know him, especially when he keeps being rude to keep her away, because the consequences would be unthinkable for him if his mother found out. But she keeps coming back. She's light and sunny, quirky and joyful - she's pretty much what Beck needs. She can see his sadness and his misery, she knows something isn't right, if she doesn't know what specifically, and she's determined to do what she can to help him, even if that's just to be his friend and spend small amounts of time with him. She's pretty damn wonderful. And it's just so gorgeous watching their friendship develop. It does kind of blossom into a slow-burn romance, but that's nowhere near as important as the friendship between them. August doesn't save Beck, but she does open his eyes. To what life could be like, to how he should be treated. To the fact that he is deserving of love and care and concern and affection. That there could be more for him. She helps his self-esteem just by treating him with respect and kindness, and that change has an affect on his story.

Then there's Joey, Beck's little sister. She is adorable and hilarious, but also full of spirit and grit. She is has all the self-confidence that comes from being a five-year-old. She is brilliant, just because she is. She wants to be a chef, and breakfasts and lunches are down to her; sandwiches with cereal and dry pasta are pretty much the norm in their house. She's a ball of energy, and it's just hilarious to see her swear at Beck in German when he doesn't do what she wants - but also really, really upsetting at the same time, because she's picking it up at home from their mother. She's witnessing everything, and she's copying. And Beck keeps getting reports of her violent behaviour to other classmates. It's just terrible. But she is an absolutely darling, and I completely loved her. She is so, so funny. When Beck and August are having a conversation on the way home from school, where they're talking about a band August loves, Twice Burgundy, and how she wants to marry about the Burgundies, and Joey says, "Who's marrying a burger? I want to marry a burger." (p118) Just adorable and so, so funny! Look at this:
'"When I'm a chef," Joey announces, "I'm going to have a big pink knife. Like a massive one." She makes a chopping motion. "Then I'm cut things up. BAM."
"What about a pink spoon?" Beck says. "Or a pink whisk?"
Joey gives him a
you're-an-idiot-why-do-I-have-to-put-up-with-you look. "Can you cut things up with a whisk, Schwachkopf? I want a knife."
Of course she does. Tiny, scary, violent child.'
(p39)*
How can anyone fail to love this child?! I adore her, and I would quite like to adopt her.

But none of the lightness takes away from the fact that this is a serious novel, and it's so powerful! The ending almost killed me, I swear. It was absolutely horrific, and I was so distraught, I simply wasn't able to cry. Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, they do, and my heart just about stopped. It's horrible, and terrifying, and completely heartbreaking. But through meeting August, Beck discovers hope - hope that things can be different, hope for a better life. And it's so absolutely beautiful. A Thousand Perfect Notes is such an amazing story, an amazing debut, and I implore you to read it.

*All quotes have been checked against a finished copy.

Thank you to Orchard Books via NetGalley for the eProof.

Add to Goodreads

Published: 7th June 2018
Publisher: Orchard Books
C. G. Drews'/Paper Fury's Blog

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