Review: All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry

All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013. Currently Available.

Genre: Fantasy, Retelling

All Our Pretty SongsFace Value: At first I like it, the leaves and the font and everything, but when you look closer and see the floating girl I am less interested. But it could certainly be worse.

Does it Break the Slate? Yes. Our characters are flawed, but they are absolutely Slatebreakers. Aurora and our unnamed narrator are both devoted to each other, and that loyalty to their friendship results in absolutely Slatebreaking actions. I also think that the author’s exploration of the different ways each girl presents femininity adds to that as well

There are moments where these characters perform non-Slatebreaking actions, but my ultimate read on it after finishing the book was that it was part of a larger, Slatebreaking narrative.

Who would we give it to? I’d recommend this book to readers of Francesca Lia Block or Nova Ren Suma. The prose is beautiful, lyrical, and almost stream-of-consciousness at times, so if you like your narrative straightforward, this isn’t the book for you. But for readers who are willing to get lost in language as the story unfolds, this book will definitely have appeal.

Review: In an unnamed town in the Pacific Northwest, two friends have grown up like sisters. The beautiful, mercurial Aurora and the never-named narrator have grown up together with their lives intertwined. Nothing can come between them – until something (someone) does. A musician named Jack appears, and he and the narrator fall in love. But then, after a party fueled by drugs, and possibly magic, a man named Minos offers him the kind of fame and exposure he could only dream about. He and Aurora leave, and its up to the narrator to go and rescue them.

It’s a retelling of the Orpheus myth, and it’s a story about love, friendship, art, and family. As the narrator tells us by the second page, “this is a story about love, but not the kind of love you think. You’ll see.”

It would be easy for this to be a book about a romance that tears apart a friendship. But it’s so much more than that. The friendship between Aurora and the narrator goes deep – and ultimately it is Aurora that the narrator goes to save, not Jack. There’s also a complicated portrait of the friendship that ended between the girls’ mothers, and how it’s more multi-faceted than it originally seemed.

This is a female driven world. We know that from the first line – “Aurora an dI live in a world without fathers. Hers is dead and mine was gone before I was born.” Raised by inexperienced and largely absent mothers, the girls have created a life for themselves built up around art and music and creative outlets. Through our two main characters, we see two different portrayals of feminininity:

“Aurora is sunlight and I’m a walking scowl. Aurora’s skin is dark, and mine is watery cream, She bleaches her black hair white and smokes unfiltered Lucky Strikes and drinks too much. She wears dresses made out of white lace and gloves with the fingers cut off. Converse with holes at the toes and old-lady satin pumps, and if you think right now of the most beautiful girl you know, Aurora next to that gilr is a galazy dwarfing an ordinary sun.

I am not beautiful at all, but I am mean. Every day I wear black jeans and the worn-out Misfits shirt that used to be Aurora’s dad’s and combat boots with steel in the toes. People keep away from my fists in the pit at shows. I cut my dark hair short and my eyes are grey like smoke when I am happy and concrete when I am not.”

But the characters don’t’ get stuck into pretty girl/tough girl stereotypes. Their identities go deeper. And the book explores, in an interesting way, how the way the girls dress is a kind of uniform that makes them feel strong and like themselves. There’s a great scene when Aurora is trying to get the narrator to dress up for a party, and she describes it:

“Without my jeans, my hoodie, I feel exposed, helpless. Aurora wears these fairy clothes like armor, but on me they feel like a trap.”

We construct our identities out of clothing, material items – we all do, and while I am likely to flinch at a character being entirely defined by her clothing aesthetic I like this treatment of it. I like the way Aurora can be powerful in dresses and the narrator can be powerful in combat boots, and they take strength from performing the identities that make them feel safe and themselves. And so, despite the fact that these characters get lost along the way, they are Slatebreakers. And even though the narrative unfolds in a drug-and-art-fueled stream of consciousness, the language is beautiful, and the story itself is absolutely worth reading.

Reviewed from library copy.

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