Author: Chris Russell
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
Publication date: 28 July 2016
Series or standalone?: Series
Source: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Charlie Bloom is happiest behind the camera and out of the limelight. But when she’s asked to take photographs for music sensations Fire&Lights, she can’t pass up the chance.
Catapulted into a whirlwind of music, ardent fans and scheming paparazzi, Charlie soon realizes that a life on tour isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There’s far more to the boys of Fire&Lights than fame, but even an expensive backdrop can’t hide the strain being put on their friendship. As bickering bubbles and rivalries simmer, Charlie is drawn to gorgeous, damaged frontman Gabriel and boy-next-door bandmate Olly Samson – but they’re the least of her problems when she stumbles on a mind-blowing secret, hidden in the lyrics of their songs…
Songs About a Girl is the latest addition to a phenomenon which has come to be known as boyband lit. For the uninitiated, boyband lit seeks to capitalise on the popularity of boybands, particularly among teenage girls, by merging the out-of-reach daydreams of fandom with the skill of the professional pen. You heard it right, boyband fans: Larry fanfic is making its way to a bookshelf near you!
Sort of. Larry fanfic is a bit niche for mainstream YA, so for now the central paradigm for boyband lit requires a heroine – usually a teenager, always ordinary, often not hugely into fandom (it’s more useful for when they need to form coherent, non-starstruck sentences later on) – to run into a famous band in a way which distinguishes her from the screaming masses – by tripping over right in front of them, by being able to see them as people etc etc – before discovering that one of them is likely the love of her life. For added drama there may be a love triangle, or she’ll be the shoulder to cry on as the bandmates reveal all their deepest secrets (if this sounds cynical, it’s because well, I am. But I have good things to say, too. As long as boyband lit respects teenage girls and continues to twine the skills of solid storytelling with the concept of the genre, then it’s fine by me. I am large, I contain multitudes…)
Likeable heroine Charlie has a family, school problems, backstory and is a good, but not perfect, photographer; her life doesn’t stop just because she’s met a vaguely handsome boyband. There are subplots, social struggles and mysteries to be solved. It helps that I like this book’s title: it’s simple, straightforward and most importantly sounds like an actual album. (I wasn’t quite sure why at first, but then I played Maroon 5’s Songs About Jane all through writing this review.)
Songs About a Girl is driven by a fairly basic plot, and I found I’d guessed a major twist early on, but it’s all very dramatic. Friendly Olly and bad boy Gabriel are touted as the book’s big stars but Yuki and Aiden get considerable time on the page too. Back at school, Charlie faces the highs and lows of friendship with Melissa, who’s definitely hiding something from her, and taunts when her involvement with Fire&Lights hits the schoolyard as well as the gossip columns. There are revelations and betrayals (including when one of the boys opens the door to Charlie and it seems he’s been leading her on while HAVING A FLING WITH A FAMOUS PERSON!). One twist had me like this:
Unfortunately, most of the characters are two-dimensional. Charlie is sixteen, but the book is aimed at a younger audience, certainly in terms of tone and unchallenging prose. Russell strives to at least blend realism with the admittedly unlikely premise of a teenager being plucked from obscurity to become an eyewitness to the fracturing relationships behind the nation’s favourite band, but there’s certainly some sanitisation of band life and fame. The book doesn’t deal with issues brilliantly or in depth; the dialogue isn’t great; the novel as a whole lacks sharpness and the intuitive, natural style of books like London Belongs to Us by Sarra Manning or Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. However, There are two sequels planned and the book ends on a cliffhanger which should keep readers on their toes.
Songs About a Girl isn’t amazing, particularly as it has a plain writing style and a fairly basic set-up, but it’s easy to keep reading this short, page-turning take on boyband lit.