Saradha Koirala is back. Her debut book Lonesome When You Go scooped the Storylines Notable Book Award in 2017 and this long-awaited sequel packs a punch of story that centres around love, family and, perhaps most notably, music.
Paige is 18, a bass player, and ready for the big world of bands in Melbourne - the Australasian answer to a New York band scene. We begin with her arrival and the stages of finding accommodation, money and a band. Perhaps not necessarily in that order though. Over the course of the novel she finds herself in a bit of a love triangle with Lou (her flatmate and also the singer in her all-girl band) and Spike (the boy she doesn’t want to admit she followed to Melbourne from Wellington). Paige gets herself into the ‘scene’ and manages to find time to create some wonderful music and self-determination.
The story is one of survival in a new world, the dynamics of friendship in and amongst trying conditions, and courage and determination to be something new and different. It is also very much a story of reconnection with family. Paige’s mum has cancer and that relationship hangs over her throughout.
As a school text there is reference to drug taking and the general rock n roll scene of band life, but at the same time there is a morality to the character of Paige that comes through strongly so these ideas can be seen through the lens of choices rather than definite.
There isn’t much around for young people who are very much into music. Obviously there are some novels that include bands and so forth, but this goes into the technical side of music with references to song lyrics throughout, of bands through the generations, and chord progressions and the effect they can have on the listener. As a musician this wasn’t an issue, but I could imagine that some readers not au fait with these could feel a little left out.
As a narrative style the novel is very well written, the dialogue is authentic and believable and that all important ‘voice’ is effective with it’s subtlety.
This is a great book as part of a wider reading programme for any class. It gives a strong insight into the world of musicians and of bands. It may be a little too nuanced for some readers.
Title: Learning To Love Blue
Publisher: Record Press
Publication Date: July 2021
Reviewer: Chris Reed, Macleans College
How are you recommending this book? Recommended
Opening sentence: When Bob Dylan arrived in New York on 24 January 1961, it was the coldest winter in 28 years.