4 out of 4 stars
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Tears and Trombones by Nanci Lee Woody focuses its plot on the story and journey of Joey Woodman, a Depression-era boy with a dream of becoming a great Classical musician. However, his dream does not come without its obstacles. His father, Vernon, is an abusive alcaholic who in turn makes Joey's home life a nightmare. His mother Ellie on the other hand, does all she can to lovingly support Joey and his dream of playing the Trombone as a classical musician while simultaneously soothing and loving her husband in spite of his shortcomings and infidelities. Joey's brother John idolizes their father and his way of life, therefore doing all he can along with Vernon to taunt Joey for his dream. Ultimately, Vernon does everything he can possibly do to keep Joey from his greatest love and passion in his life: Music.
As I was reading the book, I found it painful to come to terms with the passages detailing the instances of abuse found within the home. In this case, I can commend the author for handling the sensitively and also realistically as well. Thanks to the encouragement and lessons from his many music teachers, Joey thrives and grows in his musical skillset, so much so that he becomes a top musician within the schools he attends. Meanwhile, however, his father is determined to keep Joey occupied with hard chores and jobs in order to keep him from his music and growing in his passion. His mother however does all she can financially and academically for Joey so that he has all he needs for success. This aspect of the book only serves to highlight the recurrent theme of strength and resilience through seemingly impossible odds.
Another theme of the book that I enjoyed was the authors realistic handing of the coming of age and development that Joey undergoes throughout his life. In this instance the book was wonderfully written to showcase his childhood, pre-teen, teenage and adult life while adding in his confusion, joyfulness, struggles and hardships from school, family, friends, enemies, girls and even his music. This is brought into greater focus as Joey is caught in a complex love triangle involving a woman whom he feels obligated to love based on her financial support of his musician dream and another whom he has been in love with since high school. He also finds himself conflicted in the futile attempt to make his father proud of him in spite of his consistent rejection and hardness. Joey is then forced between the choices of doing what he believes he is obligated to do or doing what he wants to do. I found that I was able to truly put myself in Joey's shoes as I could also feel the highs and lows of his emotions and mindsets based on the choices he makes, as well as his feelings of resignation that sometimes followed. A key element that I could appreciate from the author is the note of a generational comparison between Joey and his mother who also had to make conflicting choices of her own. It's in this way that the author gives a thoughtful and passionate look at the importance of the choices we make in life.
Finally, I enjoyed the ways in which the author weaved in Joey's musical development within the story. While I am not a professional musician myself, I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated the use and references to various musical terminologies as Joey grew in his musical knowledge and ability.I found myself entranced by the various musical pieces referenced and felt as if I was learning right along with Joey. The involvement of the various musical pieces and terms I believe only serves the dual purpose of attracting musicians and non-musicians alike to the story.
Overall, I found the character development and plot both beautiful and heartbreaking at times. I felt a bond with the characters and did not want the book to end. This book would be a perfect read for musicians and non-musicians alike as the music terminology included added depth to the story but was not placed in the story so much that it did not drag the plot or add confusion or boredom to those who are non-musicians like myself. Structurally however, one of the things I disliked most was the prologue as it differs substantially with the character followed throughout the book. This caused confusion on my part as I was forced to wonder what was it that caused such a change in the characters behavior. Additionally, I believe that the book would benefit in being structured into chapters rather than its current format of five parts as the books timespan covers 30 years altogether. Its also important to note that there are some instances of strong language and erotic content. While I felt that these instances added depth and realism to the plot, I feel it is still important to point out in case a reader considers this an issue or a reader of a younger audience would want to read the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the book in its entirety so much so that I could not put it down. Its definitely a book that I want to read again and again. I give this book a rating of 4 out of 4 stars.
Tears and Trombones
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