Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly
This cover image, with the girl in the rain, actually works perfectly in the context of the story but every time I look at it, I can’t help but think, The Shawshank Redemption.
Okay, I probably shouldn’t have started my review this way, because that’s not the point.
The point is, why aren’t more people talking about this book? Harmonic Feedback has a substance and depth to it that made me feel like I got a complete and satisfying story. Tara Kelly’s writing is consistently readable, and despite the issues Drea must face over the course of the story, the tone is not heavy (in both the heavyhanded and dark/depressing senses). The book reminded me in some ways of L.K. Madigan’s Flash Burnout, and I don’t think it’s just because Jennifer Laughran is the agent for both Madigan and Kelly.
Drea—don’t call her Andrea—and her mother have lived in city after city with a series of her mother’s boyfriends. Now Drea’s mother is single and, with no place else to live, the two move to Bellingham, Washington to live with Drea’s grandmother.
The first person Drea meets in Bellingham is a girl her own age named Naomi. Drea’s not sure what to make of Naomi; it’s been years since she’s had a friend, and Drea’s manner doesn’t seem to bother Naomi. Drea is forthright and extremely literal. She’s not great at picking up subtext or nuance, and she’s determined to keep her ADHD and “touch of Asperger’s” hidden from Naomi and Justin.
Ah, Justin. The attractive new boy in school who seems to really like Drea. I can totally imagine other readers getting swoony over him. At times, I thought he was *too* perfect and patient, yet I couldn’t help but want to see the two of them together. And their relationship is, well, quite wonderful. It’s worth quoting from Courtney Summers’ interview with Kelly here:
She was incredibly relateable, in my opinion. I have to say it: Justin. Is. Awesome. He’s one of the greatest love interests I’ve seen in a young adult novel to date. Unhealthy relationships have been the basis of a lot of discussion in the YA community recently and I was so thrilled his interest in and interactions with Drea were healthy, intense and very natural. Given all that aforementioned discussion within the community, what is most important to you when you settle down to write a romantic relationship in a YA novel?
Yay, I’m so glad you liked Justin! He was a joy to write. As someone who LOVES writing romance (probably my favorite thing), I tend to read a lot of romance. And like the current discussions, I do come across some YA relationships that I think are unhealthy. I think it can be said that almost every fictional romance is slightly unrealistic…I mean that’s part of the fun, right? People like hope. They like to believe in true love. Some like to believe that true love can be found in high school. And there’s nothing wrong with that! But I do think some books cross the line from slightly unrealistic (but swoon-worthy and satisfying) to unrealistic AND unhealthy. Typically it involves a guy who is too controlling/possessive under the guise of being ‘protective’ or a girl who has no hobbies/passions of her own outside of a boy.
So one of my top goals in ANY romance I write is to make sure both characters have their own lives and own goals. If their goals and beliefs conflict, even better! I also tend to develop my YA relationships slowly. I want both characters to EARN each others admiration rather than meet and go–“Oooh, you’re perty. I love you!”
In lesser hands, Justin’s past, the fact he has an autistic niece, his musicality and that of others who enter Drea’s life might have seemed too problematically coincidental. However, Kelly grounds her story with enough realism that it seemed natural and plausible.
Back to the Asperger’s and ADHD. These are just two of the things that make Drea who she is, along with her love of music, her dislike of chocolate, and a host of other traits. By themselves, they don’t define her. And though they are important to the story and have caused difficulties in the past, they’re not treated as an ISSUE. The problems Drea faces are more universal: an embarrassing grandmother, worrying that Naomi and Justin will think she’s lame because she’s not experienced, concern over Naomi’s drug use and relationship with Scott, etc.
I also really liked the depiction of Drea’s relationship with her mother. While Drea does not like her mother’s habit of always telling people that Drea has ADHD and Asperger’s, Drea also know that her mother loves her. Their relationship is not perfect, but it is a good and supportive one.
Overall, I thought Harmonic Feedback a noteworthy debut novel and am looking forward to Tara Kelly’s future books. The ones she mentions in this SBBT interview? They sound excellent.
Book source: public library.