4 out of 4 stars
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Tears and Trombones by Nanci Lee Woody touched me on many levels. On the surface, the plot is simple. A Depression-era boy grows up and becomes a great musician. However, much more lies under the surface. Joey’s father is a hard, abusive man. He often drinks away the evenings and comes home raging. Joey’s mother is a gentle soul who loves music, art, and dancing. She soothes her husband while simultaneously encourages her son. The older brother, John, learns the construction business from his father. John and their father regularly taunt Joey. Joey’s father does everything possible to keep Joey from the one thing Joey loves: music.
I was truly moved to tears many times reading painful passages dealing with abuse in the home. The author treated the subject carefully, but realistically. With encouragement from music teachers in the schools he attended, Joey soon becomes a top player in the school band. For Joey, music is his passion, his life, his reason for living. On one hand, Joey’s father piles on chores and jobs in order to keep Joey from practicing or playing in concerts. On the other hand, Joey’s mother comes to all his concerts and often hides spare cash in order that Joey can have what he needs to grow academically as well as musically.
Another theme running through the book is the coming of age idea. Masterfully written, the book follows Joey through the preteen and teen confusion of friends, enemies, and girls. Caught in a complex triangle of who he loves and who loves him, Joey continually faces choices about what he thinks he should do and what he would rather do. Again, the author weaves this subplot sensitively and realistically.
Finally, the author shows how Joey develops musically. As a professional musician myself, I found this theme delightful. I felt Joey’s frustration when he could not make a single note sound out of an old dented trombone. His panic is real when he finds out that he cannot escape public performances. Not only does Joey deal with the normal stage fright, but he also deals with the knowledge that his father was going to be angry.
The character development throughout this book is beautiful. I felt that I knew the characters and was sorry to say goodbye to them when I finished. I felt the plot was developed at an appropriate pace. Enough “mundane” details are given to exude a sense of reality, but not so much that the storyline drags. I enjoyed the book from start to finish, but I did wonder if some of the musical terminology would lessen the interest of a non-musician. Additionally, there is a smidge of “adult content.” Even though I felt this worked well in the plot, I would want others to know in case that is an issue for someone. I definitely give this book 4 out of 4 stars.
Tears and Trombones
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