September 27, 2011

All That May Become A Man (review: Struts and Frets by Jon Skovron)

Struts and Frets
Jon Skovron
Abrams and Chronicle Books 2011

Sammy has quite a lot going on. Sort of. Firstly, his band sucks and the upcoming Battle of The Bands contest has never seemed like a worse idea – apart from anything else, he’s fairly terrified of his lead singer. Not a great situation when you want to become a professional musician. Secondly, he’s suddenly aware that his best friend, Jen5, is quite hot. Thirdly, his grandfather is rather rapidly losing his marbles with his stories, advice and wisdom disappearing with his sanity. So yes, Sammy really has far too much to think about and this time, scarily, perhaps music isn’t going to be quite enough to get him through.

Sammy is one of the nicest characters out there right now. Sweet, thoughtful, slightly gormless, confused and passionate he reads as an extremely believable teenage boy (albeit one who knows all the words to I’m Beginning To See The Light which, admittedly, just makes him more awesome). His general life plan is to play music – really, that’s just about it. While he dreams of fame and fortune, however, life seems to conspire against him and he starts to become a little despondent as he realises that following your dreams isn’t easy and doesn’t always come without compromise. It’s a situation that everyone has to face at some point – a universal dark night of the soul – and Sammy is no exception.

Jen5 is another well-drawn character although I don’t think I’ve ever met a teenage girl with quite her innate confidence, never mind her sense of style. Often, with confident characters in YA, their underlying flaws/issues/vulnerabilities are writ large and with little subtlety. Not so with Jen5 – for much of Struts and Frets she appears to be exactly as she, er, appears. However, Jon Skovron carefully plants suggestions of a distant, dismissive mother and Jen5’s struggle to be taken seriously at home that round out her character nicely. Her friendship with Sammy is delightful – one of those lovely, easy, tentative relationships that are so much nicer to read than the usual angst ridden fare – YAY for lack of angst!

Other characters in Struts and Frets are all written with the same believability as Sammy and Jen5. Sammy’s best friend Rick is interesting as a gay YA written, again, with little angst but with plenty of understanding; lead singer Joe clearly has anger management issues but also seems to be keen to belong to, well, anything and TJ is entirely realistic as a nice guy trying to do the right thing. The adults in Struts and Frets are particularly impressive. Sammy’s grandfather is beautifully, and often slightly frighteningly, painted as a talented and much lauded musician sliding inexorably towards senility while Sammy’s mother is well portrayed as a single mother, tired, stressed but also successfully raising a teenage boy while also managing to be his friend (despite her excruciating ‘sex talks’).

Struts and Frets has less of a plot and more of a gentle meandering tone and this is wherein lies its greatest success. While Sammy’s concerns for his grandfather and the looming battle of the bands add structure to the book, this is really a look at a teenager coming to terms with the realities of starting adult life (both positive and negative). It’s a coming of age tale of the best possible ilk, where not much really happens, but our protagonist slowly starts to become the person they are growing up to be. It’s been a long time since I’ve read such a realistic vision of being seventeen and even longer since I read such an authentic teenage boy’s voice. Throughout the book, Skovron throws in references to Macbeth and at first they all seem a bit obtuse and unnecessary but, cleverly, they build towards the famous tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow soliloquy that lends the book it’s title. Despite having studied the play at Sammy’s age, I’d never entirely realised how much this oft quoted speech sums up the what’s the point feeling that so often characterises the teenage years – it’s very cleverly worked into Struts and Frets. Also running through the book is a genuine love of music – it leaks from the pages and there is a great play list at the end, one which I suspect many will be listening to on finishing the story.

Struts and Frets is Jon Skovron’s d├ębut novel (although he now has another, Misfits – quite a different kettle of fish – on the shelves) and is hugely enjoyable. Fans of John Green, Shaun Hutchinson and Susane Colasanti will certainly enjoy his style and for those of you with teenage boys to buy for this Christmas you can’t go far wrong with this great debut.


Thanks to Abrams and Chronicle for sending me this title to review. The Mountains of Instead is also taking part in the Struts and Frets Blog Tour which started, er, today!  Details are on the right  - please check out all the posts, especially mine.  Er, I mean ALL of the posts.  They're all going to be super.



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