by Sarah Pennington
Beck Keverich’s life is controlled by his piano. Perhaps that’s why he hates it more than anything else in his life. Or perhaps he just hates everything it represents: his own depression, his wreck of a life, and his abusive mother, a former concert pianist who’s determined that her son will carry on her legacy. Her dream ties Beck to the piano for hours on end, practicing until every note is perfect, leaving him little time for schoolwork, friendships, or even sleep. And if Beck fails to perform, he faces the threat of violence against himself and his little sister, Joey. He longs to push back and fight for the freedom to compose his own songs, but fear holds him back. That is, until he meets August, a girl full of life and laughter who pushes him to reach for something better than what he has.
“A Thousand Perfect Notes” is the debut novel of C. G. Drews, an Australian author and book blogger. Although this is her first published novel, she doesn’t shy away from darkness or sorrow. Beck’s depression and self-hatred, his mother’s abuse, and the emptiness of his life in general are all vividly shown.
As a result, “A Thousand Perfect Notes” can be a difficult read at times. Sensitive readers should be aware that the book contains domestic abuse (described with middling detail), self-harm fantasies (not acted upon), and child abuse and neglect. And even fairly hardy readers may want to take a break at times when Beck’s mother is at her most demanding and violent and Beck himself is at his most self-sabotaging. These facts don’t make “A Thousand Perfect Notes” a bad book. The world needs difficult stories; they help readers understand what others may be going through. But readers should be aware of what to expect before they start reading.
Character-wise, “A Thousand Perfect Notes” is both excellent and frustrating. Readers may wish for a little more development of August, Beck’s friend. Although August is interesting, she occasionally strays dangerously close to the manic pixie dream girl trope — a quirky female character who serves mainly as a catalyst for Beck’s emotional growth. This, however, is the exception rather than the rule. Drews’ characters, even the minor ones, even the antagonists, are well-drawn and realistic.
At times, this realism can be confusing. Readers may wonder why Beck doesn’t fight back against his situation, why he doesn’t seek help; why he lets things happen to him instead of taking action to change his circumstances. But instead of scoffing at Beck, readers should seek to understand him and the real people who face his same struggles.
However, don’t think that “A Thousand Perfect Notes” is so completely dedicated to “realism” that it focuses only on the darkness of life. Even in the midst of pain and depression and bitterness, Beck and other characters find hope. They find strength. They find bravery. Beck’s love for his little sister, Joey, is one of the brightest parts of the novel. Even when Beck can’t find the strength to care for himself, he still cares for Joey and does his best to shield her from their mother’s abuse. And in the end, it’s Joey, not just August, who pushes Beck to take action and find a happier ending to their story.
“A Thousand Perfect Notes” is not an easy book, nor a perfect book. But it is a good book that effectively and realistically deals with issues that many people all over the world face. And for readers who want to understand those issues a little better, this is a good place to start.
Sarah Pennington is a junior professional writing and information design major and an arts and entertainment reporter for Cedars. She loves chai tea and dragons and is perpetually either reading or writing a book.