4 out of 4 stars
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People change, as the saying goes. We grow older, we make mistakes, we have successes, and we adapt to fit our new lives. Life forces us to reassess what we do, how we do it, and even who we are, evaluations which very few among us greet with open arms. That’s not to mention how our loved ones will react to the “new” version of us. But what if change is inevitable? What if circumstances throw us into the river of change—should we go with the flow? Or should we swim upstream, back to where we came from, to please others?
In Christine M. Knight’s Song Bird, Nikki Mills has found herself in this river of change. She wants to flow where the change will take her, but others—especially her parents—keep trying to pull her back upstream instead of adapting with her. Yet with the success of her band’s most recent tour, Nikki and her loved ones may have no choice but to embrace this new life, with which will come new challenges.
When she and The Nikki Mills Band return from their tour—infamously dubbed “The Babes-in-the-Bath” tour—everyone is eager for some downtime. Nikki’s parents welcome her home with open arms, and her son, Dan, latches himself to her side. Unfortunately for the Mills family, the fanfare that greets Nikki at the airport also follows her home. She can’t even go back-to-school shopping with Dan without being bombarded by tourists. Add to that a performance at the ARIA Music Awards and a possible tour near Christmas, and all of Nikki’s family time seems to vanish before it’s even started. With all of this excitement and struggles to balance her career and her family, Nikki also carries two prominent inner struggles: a desire to change her legal name to reflect her new self and budding romantic feelings. Will Nikki ever get the courage to release the last remnants of Mavis? Can she reconcile her new, independent personality with her desire for a romantic relationship? Most importantly, can she continue to advance her career without letting people like Dan slip through the cracks?
After reading Knight’s In and Out of Step and Life Song, I was eager to read Song Bird, especially since it continues Nikki’s journey to realizing her dreams as a musician. A few years pass between the end of Life Song and Song Bird, but it felt as though I were picking up right where I left off. Many of the themes from the previous book carry to this one seamlessly: women’s independence and equality, the male/female dynamic, the career/family balance, and finding oneself despite all odds. Nikki must learn to move about her own hometown of Keimara without being mobbed by fans while giving Dan the love and attention he needs. Everyone supports her, most especially her parents, but like in Life Song, this support does not come without some backlash. The difference in this book is that Knight now allows Nikki to dip into her desire for romantic love as well as managing her career and family.
Just as with In and Out of Step and Life Song, the characters in this novel are phenomenal and relatable. Even as they become celebrities, partners, and/or parents, each character maintains the core traits which made them engaging and unique in the first place. Kate is still fiercely independent and strong after she has her daughter, but she also uses those traits to be a loving mother; Gary is still fun, supportive, and responsible, he just grows even more into his responsible side with the birth of his daughter; and Nikki is still Mavis, trying to please everyone else even though she knows she shouldn’t, but she has also taken on new confidence which allows her to become the spitfire Nikki that fans see on stage. Even Dan and Zoey—one a child and one almost an adult—come into their own, playing off of each other and the adults to show what the children of single parents and celebrities go through.
My favorite part of this book, however, is how Knight portrays the pain and difficulty of entering a new relationship both as a strong woman and an abuse survivor. Nikki is the epitome of the modern woman—a single mother and a career woman. She does not want a man to interfere with either aspect of her life. She also realistically embodies the concept of “once bitten, twice shy,” afraid of being hurt once again. She does not jump into the first romantic relationship that seems viable. In fact, she ignores many potential suitors initially, keeping her attention on her music and trying to help Dan adjust to her new celebrity status. She slowly but surely settles back into the idea of someday having a relationship. In doing so, she must grapple with the emotional scars of previous abuse and the fragments of her Mavis personality which will only destroy her in the long run. Knight’s ability to recognize these issues and present them in such an eloquent and powerful way is the greatest strength in her writing and shows in all three books of this series.
Still, like the other books, Song Bird carries a weakness in its writing: excessive exposition. Knight utilizes a lot of exposition to develop characters, give their backgrounds, explain their thoughts, and catch readers up on the other two books. I personally prefer when books show such things through action, dialogue, and flashbacks. Nevertheless, despite my personal tastes, I find it hard to fault Knight for this excessive exposition. She weaves it masterfully into the narrative, so most readers probably will not be bothered by it. Additionally, the information provided through the exposition is critical to the novel, and so the exposition can be considered a necessary evil.
I noticed a couple minor proofreading errors, most misplaced quotation marks, but they are so infrequent that I think the book had to have been professionally edited. I must also warn non-Australian readers that Knight uses a lot of Australian jargon. I would not expect anything less from a book about Australian characters and I thought it created a much more immersive experience, but American readers in particular will need to look up a lot of phrases or figure them out based on context.
All things considered, I have to give Song Bird by Christine M. Knight 4 out of 4 stars. It is wonderfully written with very vivid and realistic characters. A strong plot is provided by Nikki’s rise to fame, but action-lovers will want to avoid this book. It’s all about character development and the relationships we forge in our everyday lives, so fans of realistic fiction are the best fit for it.
Be warned: this book runs about 304 pages and the cast of characters is very large. Regardless, Knight’s writing is so crisp and engaging that you won’t even realize how much you’ve read until you reach the end. Knight also provides a handy table of important characters at the beginning of the book, so if you ever get lost in all the names, all you have to do is flip back to the chart. I highly recommend this novel to readers who love strong female characters and characters chasing their dreams. While it can be read on its own, I definitely recommend reading the entire series for the best experience. I truly hope that Knight writes more soon, especially if the story includes the unique and ever-growing community of Song Bird.
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