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The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing by C. K.…
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The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing

by C. K. Kelly Martin

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For more reviews, Cover Snark and more, visit A Reader of Fictions.

These days, I don’t read too many indie books. Actually, I never really have. Pretty close to the only exception I make is for authors I already know to be of good quality. This was my sixth C.K. Kelly Martin book, so I was pretty sure it was a fairly safe bet. Martin is an author whose books I love to read because she pushes boundaries and manages to make me interested in topics that really don’t work for me usually. Her fiction is hard-edged and doesn’t shy away from the darker side of teenage life. The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing fits that mold well, but is also on the lighter side of Martin’s fiction.

Serena has a whole host of issues to work through in The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing. First, there’s the boyfriend. Or, more aptly, the ex. Serena dumps Jacob, he of the sexy basketball player arms, after he tries to force her to make out with another girl at a party. That was the straw that broke the relationship’s back. He’d been pressuring her for sex and to do things she wasn’t ready for or didn’t want to do. The fact that he tried to make her hook up with some other girl for the entertainment of his friends was one step too far. This scene is how we meet Serena, and I think it’s a good one. We see that beneath her insecurities, there is a very strong girl who will not let this guy force her into anything.

Then there are her friends, Izzy and Marguerite, who Serena still likes, but who do not understand what she’s going through. The whole Jacob fiasco has really messed with Serena’s head and they don’t really get how she’s feeling. As a result, they drift apart a bit and Serena ends up making friends with some other girls who have been wronged by boys at their high school. Genevieve, Nicole, and, later, Aya become Serena’s support system, as they all resolve they’d be best off not dating. I really like Martin’s take on friendship. I like that her early friendships sort of drift away but that Serena later makes a conscious effort to restore them. I like that Serena gains an understanding for the girl in the opening scene, the one who was going to make out with her. There are fights between friends, but they work through them. It’s very healthy and realistic. I love the way they support each other and do what they can to help others attacked by gossip as well. The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing has a lot of great things to say about slut- and virgin-shaming, and I love it all.

Then there’s Serena’s body. Until partway through freshman year, she was always chubby. Due to stress, she stopped having an appetite and dropped 29 pounds. Suddenly, she had male attention (Jacob). Before that, the only cute boys who would make out with her later pretended it hadn’t happened. Throughout The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing Serena struggles with her body image. She’s constantly worrying about what she’s eaten and weighing herself to see if she’s put on weight. The resolution isn’t addressed directly, but I do think that she stops thinking about this quite so much when she’s actually getting happier. It’s a classic effort to control something in her life.

The biggest issue in Serena’s life is her family. Her brother Devin left them months ago, after problems with drugs, and they don’t even know if he’s still alive. Serena’s mom doesn’t do anything but bid for crystal on eBay and her dad pretends everything is fine. Her family’s got all the emotion of a bunch of zombies. Devin was the family member she was closest to and he said horrible things to her before he left, including insults about her weight. It’s no wonder that she’s a mess after being treated this way by the person she was closest to in the world. The family stuff doesn’t tie up all neatly, but I think it’s wonderful how Serena gets closer to her other brother, Morgan, and learns to see things from his perspective.

While all of this is going on, Serena meets Gage, a customer at the store where she works. He asks her out and, despite the boy ban, she agrees to go. This romance is not one that I would ordinarily be able to get behind because 1) he’s 19 to her 15 and 2) he has a four year old child. However, though they don’t handle everything perfectly, Gage genuinely is a nice guy and he’s really good for her right now. The relationship is managed in a really non-creepy way, even for me, which is impressive. Also, it’s nice that being in the relationship with Gage doesn’t magically solve Serena’s problems. She still has to work through her family and friend stuff alone. Having a boyfriend doesn’t disappear insecurities either.

C.K. Kelly Martin’s latest contemporary YA novel is one I would recommend to readers of Courtney Summers, in its unflinching honesty and the way that I end up caring about things that I usually don’t. I’m always so impressed when a book can get me to put aside my judgmental nature for a bit. ( )
  A_Reader_of_Fictions | Nov 13, 2014 |
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