4 out of 4 stars
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Being a single parent, while it has its rewards, also has its challenges. Financial, emotional, and social, the effects of raising a child are wide-reaching and long-lasting. Often, single parents put their dreams on hold to do right by their children. But what if they got a second chance to have it all? Should they go for it? Or would the risk be too much for their family?
Such is the dilemma facing Mavis Mills, protagonist of Christine M. Knight’s Life Song. Mavis is a young, single mother doing her best to raise her son in 1990s Keimera, Australia. Financially struggling and emotionally drained, the only real relief in her life comes from her friends, Gary and Kate, and her parents, Marg and Trevor Mills. They help her with her son, with money, and with keeping her sanity intact, but something big is missing from her life—and it’s not a man.
Then one hot summer’s day, Mavis gets the chance to step in as singer for a band performing at a local festival, and her whole life changes. Following a couple successful gigs, Mavis and her loved ones think that she will finally get a shot at pursuing her singing aspirations. Unfortunately, with great opportunity also comes great risk and sacrifice. As her life and her friends’ lives quickly change, Mavis is left with many questions about her work/life/music balance: is this new route really the best thing for her and her son? Can she, as Kate says, really have it all? Or is it as her parents have told her, that her son, Dan, is the picture and she is the frame? And will her friends be there for her and Dan as they enter this exciting, but bumpy, stage in their lives?
Knight first captured my imagination with her novel In and Out of Step, which features Mavis, Gary, Kate and another one of Mavis’s close—albeit currently absent—friends, Cassie. After learning that Life Song follows another spitfire character from that book, I was eager to jump in and see what will happen in the small town of Keimera next. Knight did not disappoint. This book depicts not only Mavis’s struggles but also those of Gary and Kate as they deal with her situation and their own lives. It’s not just about romantic or maternal love; it’s about familial love, the love between friends, and the love of music. Mavis, her dreams, and her life might take center stage, but by no means do they perform alone.
As with In and Out of Step, the best part of Life Song is the characters. They are complex with real goals, emotions, and challenges. Among many other characters, Knight creates strong, independent women like Mavis and Kate, big-hearted men like Gary, self-absorbed witches like Sarah, and varying degrees of sexist alpha males like Mavis’s new bassist and drummer. These characters often butt heads as tensions run high, and that is when the true drama and character development begin. No one is completely blameless or right in any given situation, but Knight makes it easy for readers to connect with—and route for—one character or another in these disputes.
This book might be called a sequel to In and Out of Step and it does pick up many of the first novel’s themes and characters. It also pursues many of the same social issues, such as feminism, the male/female dynamic, and domestic abuse. However, Life Song is self-contained, catching readers up on what they might have missed in In and Out of Step, and the story wraps up nicely while leaving enough open to set up the next book in the series. Still, the attempt to remain self-contained is also part of the novel’s only real downside, at least for me. From the first book, I expected Knight’s reliance on exposition, and that expectation proved to be true in this book as well. Nevertheless, the excessive exposition trips me up at points. I felt as though too much background information was given through exposition as well as some of the initial character development. The exposition creates a storyteller feel which, considering that the setting is a small town, enhances the homey feel of the narrative. In that way, the exposition is a plus. I prefer less exposition in my reading but, in the end, it does not detract too much from this engaging novel.
I noticed a few minor grammatical errors, but they are so small and infrequent that I probably would have missed them if I hadn’t been looking for them. Knight also uses a lot of Australian jargon. For me, that helped immerse me in the story and added to the homey, storytelling feel, but other non-Australian readers might not understand the terms. Fortunately, most of them are easy to figure out based on the context.
Excessive exposition and very minor grammatical issues aside, I have to give Life Song by Christine M. Knight 4 out of 4 stars. It’s not just another single-parent story or pursuing-your-dreams tale; it’s engaging, original, and raw. Not everything is peachy, but enough good times are mixed in with the challenges that the drama is surprisingly bearable. Women—strong women in particular—teenaged or older will love this book, and anyone who’s hesitating to pursue their dreams should pick it up as well. It’s very long at 334 pages, but Knight’s clean, well-paced writing makes you forget the page count. I have become very invested in this small Australian community, and luckily for me, this isn’t the end of the story; I plan to pick up the next book, Song Bird, as soon as possible.
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