Stringz by Michael Wenberg 2010 ARC (quotes subject to change)
IQ "'What if Osama Bin Laden's dad had insisted that Osama play the flute or maybe the electric guitar? Or what if a requirement for becoming, oh, I don't know, president of the United States was that you play a violin or paint with watercolors or tap dance?' It sounded nuts to me, but maybe Marcy had a point. I couldn't imagine what my life would be like without music, and maybe it could make a difference for other people, too." Jace pg. 172
Jace Adams is a superbly gifted cellist. His cello playing is about the only steady thing in his life as a result of his mother constantly moving them around. When they finally move to Seattle, Jace thinks this may be their final move, especially since they are staying with his Aunt Bernice. However, Jace is miserable because he wants to move back to California where he can surf. The only two things Jace cares about are surfing and his cello, Ruby. He still cares about his brother Derrick, but Derrick's not around anymore after serving time in jail, Jace's mother cut off all contact with her oldest son. Money is tight so Jace plays his cello on the street for cash and one day, a famous cello player and teacher, gives him $100 and leaves a note with his business card attached. He thinks Jace has serious potential and he wants Jace to apply for a scholarship for minority string players; the prize is a music scholarship and $10,000. Jace is only interested in the money anyway, but he'll be going up against some of the top musicians in the U.S. and the pressure at home and school may get to him.
I hope this doesn't make me sound too picky, but a problem I had with this book was the "black culture". Jace is bi-racial and he lives with his African American mother, his father left them. Just as Doret pointed out, the statement on the back of the book from Greg Sandow about how the author has a "rare understanding of...classical music, hiphop, black culture" bothered me. Mainly because this book doesn't really have that much to do with black culture. Or at least it shouldn't. In reading Stringz, I almost felt like the author was trying too hard to show that he understood African Americans especially African American men. For instance, there's an incident when someone calls Jace "boy". This would definitely be offensive in certain contexts but Jace took it out of context, the person clearly meant boy as in teenage boys and not as in 'you're a Black man but I'm going to call you boy anyway'. I think that little episode does clue in some people and may open their eyes to the fact that subtle racism does exist. There were was some random mentions of famous African Americans thrown in (Josephine Baker for one) and some jokes that were just, odd. One of the white characters asks Jace's Aunt Bernice "What's a Black woman doing with a favorite movie called White Christmas?". I just don't think that thought would have ever been said aloud. Maybe a white person would have thought that to themselves, but I think racial issues can be so sensitive, even amongst friends, that that comment would not have been made. It's one of those things where it would have been ok for a Black person to say it because that would have been funny, but for a white person to say it, it just seemed odd. However, this book didn't have much "black culture". To me, black culture means talks about our history and current issues we have to go through, our experiences. This book lightly touches on that, but it's mostly about music, family and friends so while the author may understand black culture, that's not really demonstrated in the book. My other main problem with this book was the sudden re-appearance of a character. It happened too fast, with little build-up and it wasn't very realistic.
That being said, I was really happy to 'see' the re-emerging character. They added a happy and interesting subplot to the story. I enjoyed reading about Jace playing hip hop on his cello and I wish that I could actually hear Jay-Z being played on a cello by such a gifted cellist like Jace. Jace is a sweet character. His first day at a new school he gets in trouble, but it's for doing a good deed (I won't say what). He's sarcastic and tries to be tough, but he has a sweet side and he's funny. He's also a little bit crazy, when you read the book, you will agree; the ferryboat incident is touching but a tad bit insane. Jace always doubts himself and you just want to smack him because CLEARLY he's talented, but he doesn't see that. It's always good when you become emotionally involved with a character :) Elvis, Marcy and Mr. Majykowski all add to the story and are relatively fleshed out (although I didn't see the point in Mr. Majykowski having a wife, she so rarely appears), but Elvis does fade into the background quite often. I liked him so I would have liked to see more of him. Stringz had some unexpected moments, the plot had few twists, but those few twists that were in the plot were quite good and made the story better. I wasn't expecting that certain character to pop up and I was slightly surprised at the ending.
Stringz is a quick and pleasant read with some surprising moments that are mostly happy, but there are some sad scenes. Jace was an original and I loved that. I wish this book was longer so we could have read more about Jace and his love of surfing in the beginning. I also think a longer book would have allowed more of a build up to one of the plot twists and helped flesh out a few more details and characters. I want to make it clear that even though I felt the author was overcompensating sometimes, he was never degrading to African Americans and our experiences. I finished this book with a sense of curiosity about other kinds of music like classical and blues. I think this book would especially be good for musicians and reluctant-readers.
Disclosure: Received from publisher. Thank you!
PS Did the black culture thing make sense? It's hard to explain so I hope I wasn't too incoherent.