Heartbreak Symphony

Little, Brown. Apr. 2022. 368p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316460385.
Gr 9 Up–A novel that takes on grief, trauma, first love, and the restorative power of music and community. Aarón’s mom recently died from cancer. Mia’s mother abandoned her family; her father, consumed by his heartbreak, died from alcoholism. Both families haven’t been able to recover from their losses, but DJ Aaron and trumpeter Mia hope to escape their trauma with a spot at a fancy school that is offering music scholarships to kids in their San Antonio, TX, neighborhood. In alternating chapters, we see how each teen struggles to fight their demons and change their destinies. He is hallucinating, seeing and hearing his music idol in the form of a robot. She freezes each time she steps on the stage to audition, glued to the spot by her self-doubt. Together they take steps toward healing, joining forces to protest the recent ICE raids in their town. Initially, it’s difficult to discern between the two points of view, but Kemp eventually hits her stride. The excellent characterization isn’t limited to the protagonists. From the local bus driver and neighborhood librarian to Mia’s and Aarón’s siblings, each secondary character is also well developed. Kemp eloquently captures how the warmth and strength of a community of mentors can impact a young person’s life. Dreams aren’t realized by the efforts of one person; they are achieved through the support of many working in concert. Readers will empathize with Mia’s imposter syndrome, and Aarón’s conflicts with his father and twin brother are portrayed with nuance. Even their town, Monte Vista, is fully realized, having its own complex identity. Most characters are of Chicanx and Latinx heritage. This story will be resounding in readers’ hearts long after they’ve turned the last page.
VERDICT With the lyricism of Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and Raquel Vasquez Gilliland’s works, this novel is recommended for all collections.

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