I’m sure I’m going to get a reputation online as being some YA groupie who will give an A to any YA romance thrown at me. I’m going to lose any credibility I have but seriously, people keep sending me really good YA romance. I might have to review a Sweet Valley High just to snark on some YA. I do have plenty to choose from. Maybe the one with the earthquake that makes the refrigerator fall on this girl and kills her. Let me know which SVH you’d like me to aim the Bitchysnark at, and I’ll review it.
But alas, you shall have to contend with Sarah reading yet another YA romance that was so good she ended up rereading it at least two and a half times. I still reread sections even as I’m writing the review. The book draws me back in every time I pick it up. I thought about loaning it to a neighbor and couldn’t bear not to have it to write the review. It’s that good.
Alegria Montero tries out for a Spanish language reality show called Oye Mi Canto – “Hear my Voice.” By far one of the youngest to audition at age 17, but also one of the most talented, Ali impresses the hell out of the judges and lands one of the coveted spots on the television show. Trouble is, her very protective father has no idea she auditioned – her best friend Sosi forged his signature on the permission form. But to her surprise, she finds herself on television among some very talented – and some very vindictive – young artists, competing for an incredible opportunity to become a star. More importantly, Ali discovers what it is about performing that makes each moment on stage magical and beyond fulfilling, and learns how to grow up fast in a very, very public forum.
There’s no shortage of elements in this book that I enjoyed. Ali’s fluctuations between belief in herself and feelings of being completely overwhelmed by her experiences seem totally normal and not at all contrived, and the behavior of the people who surround her is equally believable. Ferrer has a deft and and noticeable talent in creating vivid characters. The inserted Spanish in the dialogue made sense – though as a disclaimer I do speak Spanish, but to a non-speaker it’s not that difficult to understand – and it was colloquially accurate from my experience talking to Cuban Americans. The bits of Spanish and affectionate slang added to the authenticity of the characters, and demonstrated easily the regard and love they have for each other, and for Ali.
Now, I am a sucker for behind-the-scenes information of any kind. Going into the back end of the zoo to clean poo on tv? I’ll watch that. Reading about how roadies set up a stage in a day or two? I’d totally lose myself in that. So this book fed my behind-the-scenes appetite admirably. First, Ferrer wrote in terms a person familiar with popular music would use, giving the reader inside knowledge and language about popular music – songs are called “charts,” for example, and Ali plays a priceless guitar called a Bernabe. I learned a good bit about music, acoustic instruments, and techniques that musicians use to remix popular songs with very different and innovative cultural flavors.
In addition, there’s a great deal of inside information about the backstage life of a reality tv show much like American Idol, from insight into the loss of the producer’s autonomy if a show becomes popular, to the way contestants can come together to support each other or tear each other down ruthlessly.
But even with the wealth of information about music, performing, and television competition, Adios to my Old Life is about a strong and admirable heroine realizing her dream and acquiring sudden fame, while learning to appreciate being so blessed with a gift in music that it’s both an ambition and a solace.
The only limits to my enjoyment were an unfortunate habit of infodumping in the beginning, with Ali narrating a huge amount of explanation as to the setup of the story. And I had a hard time believing that much of the time Ali was unaware of the growing fanbase she and the other contestants had acquired, though it totally fits with her character that she’d try to ignore it.
There is a romance, though it’s secondary to the heroine-centered coming of age story that makes the book so attractive. Her romance with Jaime, a production assistant, is a major element, though not the only element that creates Ali’s character, and her relationship with Jaime pops in and out of the story as Ali learns to navigate the requirements of the performance schedule of Oye mi Canto. But the resolution of her romance is definitely a requirement to the happy ending of the novel.
If you’re looking for straight-up YA romance, this isn’t necessarily it, but this is a happy, fantastically charming story of a heroine you can both like and admire. I can’t even say how pleased I am that Adios to my Old Life was nominated for a RITA™ for Best First Book, and for Best Contemporary Single Title Romance. I read romance for a number of reasons, but primarily because at the end, it makes me happy. This book certainly did so, and more.