Review: ‘Screaming Divas’ by Suzanne Kamata #2WeeksofThanks

This review is part of my Two Weeks of Thanks to book publisher Merit Press. They have generously and continuously provided me with books to review over the past two years.

Trudy lies and steals. Cassie is consumed by anger. Harumi steps away from her life. Esther’s real self is locked away. Four girls, all with problems. Problems that can be ignored while thrashing and screaming and wailing on guitars.

Trudy can’t trust those closest to her, so she does everything in her power to push them away. Her mother, a former debutante/current hippie, is constantly finding new men to marry and other places to live. When Trudy acts up, she is sent to foster care. More than once. When Trudy’s absent father shows up, she still pushes. On her own, she figures out that the only good constant in her life has been music.

Cassie’s permanently scarred from a car accident that took her mother’s life. Cassie loved doing pageants with her mom, performing in front of an audience. At home, it was a different story. Her continuously philandering father has driven her mother to drink, and after their latest fight, she gets behind the wheel and changes Cassie’s life permanently.

Every minute of Harumi’s life has been orchestrated by her mother. Her parents are Japanese immigrants, and Harumi thinks that they are expecting her to be what gets them accepted. All she does is practice her violin, and even her only friend, Esther, stops coming by. Harumi is never available. In New York City trying out for Julliard, Harumi is suddenly hit with this realization: for the rest of her life, she will be playing this violin in front of faceless people on stages just like the one where she stands. After she finishes playing, she smashes her beloved violin and vows to never play again.

Esther is lonely. Once her friend Harumi is no longer able to hang out with her, she spends a lot of her time alone. She thinks a lot, especially about Cassie. Esther is in love with Cassie, and writes her letters, albeit anonymously, almost every day. But Esther’s family would never approve of her feelings toward another girl, so she won’t even allow herself to think that it is possible.

Together, they make Screaming Divas. Each one of them is working out a difficult problem, but one more than the rest. And as the band starts to make a name for itself, tragedy strikes.

Whadja Think?: I read this book a few months ago, and really disliked it. All of the main characters seemed self-centered and depressing, and their problems multitudinous and dismal. I waited too long to write my review, so I re-read it.

Yesterday, I tweeted the question that basically said: what if a book you read is well-written and has issues that need to be talked about, but, as a reader, you just didn’t like it? Someone tweeted back that he didn’t trust a reviewer who had to like something. For me, it is much easier to apply this kind of thinking to a painting, not a book. Maybe it is because much more time is spent reading a book. While the painting should get you to feel things, even unpleasant things, a book goes deeper than that. It has to, especially when covering a topic that is horrible or disagreeable or that has no answer. In realistic fiction, the truth may not be enjoyable. The ending may not be tied up in a neat bow where we get to sigh and think: wow, that was tough, but everything turned out ok in the end.

So I am conflicted, sometimes, about how to review a book that is good writing with an interesting plot and deep questions. I don’t want to say that I am not a fan of realistic fiction in YA, because that’s not the truth. And really, I don’t mind an unhappy ending sometimes. Maybe I just prefer a little more sunshine sprinkled in with my gravity.

To Read or Not To Read: Taking my review with a grain of salt, if realistic fiction is your thang, you’ll be happy you read it. Otherwise, leave the salt out of it and decide for yourself.

Screaming Divas by Suzanne Kamata was published May 18, 2014 by Merit Press. A free copy of this book was given to Ink and Page in return for an honest review. Big thanks to Merit Press and the Author.

Rating: 3

Genre: Young Adult Fiction Contemporary LGBTQ+
Ages: 15 and up
You Might Want to Know: Mature themes, including sex, drinking, smoking, drugs and profanity.

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