Byron Eggenschwiler, illustrator
Groundwood, 2019 160 pages
Charlie is given an assignment in music class to choose a song that defines this moment in her life. This is a very hard assignment in that she does not connect to music in a person way and is undergoing so many changes. Charlie and her friends are finishing eighth grade and about to enter high school with all of the changes and fears that entails. Meanwhile, she is still struggling with a crush on her classmate Emile, even though he doesn't seem to notice her. She also struggle with the empty desk pushed against the wall. That desk formally belonged to Luka, who was different than the other boys. His wore his hair long, sang embarrassing songs in a feminine way, and dressed in a style that other eighth grade boys teased. After sever bullying, Luka stopped going to school and Charlie not only misses him, but wishes she stood up for him. Meanwhile, the music teacher keeps playing different genres of music to find what resonates with the students. Surprisingly, it is the unusual beauty and rawness of Maria Callas that speaks to Charlie and she becomes interested in both opera and the life of her new idol. Maria Callas' struggles are highlighted as her life is told with red highlights. Charlie's life is told in yellow and the past with Luka's backstory is told in blue.
This may be the most beautiful graphic novel I have ever read. The story with its message of accepting people despite their differences, feeling like an outside, and the restorative power of music is lyrically told. We all have songs that define parts of our lives and I love that the teacher alerts his students to them. I also love a school where the music program is such that the kids all learn to play guitars and listen to different genres. Both author and illustrator are Canadian, so maybe that country puts more of an emphasis on the arts, unlike the stem-mad USA. Music certainly saves Charlie and brings her friends together in a healthy and healing way. The illustrations help to tell the story with beauty and intention and perfectly reflect the author's words. Although music is heard throughout the entire book, it is never directly represented by musical notes. Eggenschwiler depicts the music through creative, yet appropriate means allowing the reader to experience the notes visually without being hit over the head. The use of color helps to separate the three stories/time periods and help to place the reader in the proper timeline. A few wordless panels and amazing full-page spreads give the reader a chance to rest and take the book in, while spending a minute in the beauty of the music. The cover is lush and appealing, the pages are thick and creamy, and the design is exceptional. A true gem of a book in every way.