Book Review: ‘A Song Only I Can Hear’ by Barry Jonsberg

Amidst many of Allen and Unwin’s great 2018 releases, A Song Only I Can Hear by Barry Jonsberg is sure to top birthday wish lists for years to come.

The coming-of-age story follows Rob Fitzgerald, our hilarious thirteen-year-old narrator, as he attempts to woo his crush, Destry Camberwick. He makes note often that he’s shy and prone to panic attacks, but receives an anonymous text message one night urging him to step outside his comfort zone. The text message challenges continue to plague Rob’s mind throughout the novel and the identity of this mysterious texter is revealed at the end with some nostalgia.

Jonsberg expertly weaves multiple events and ideas throughout his work and it really isn’t until the final few chapters that the crux of the story is revealed. Some chapters alternate between our protagonist’s conversations with his outspoken, albeit kindhearted, grandfather and his quest to impress Destry. At some point, Rob must also prepare for his town’s talent quest, chain himself to the gates outside a butcher in protest, and walk a “Fluffy Bundle of Rubbish” called Trixie. There’s not a dull moment, despite the fact that this novel is void of fantasy and conventional adventure.

Every reader will fall in love with the two concurrent plotlines, as the character of Rob’s grandfather becomes increasingly complex and important to the protagonist’s personal growth. In these interwoven plotlines, Rob’s grandfather reveals more and more of his past, and it becomes a subtle truth that, despite their generational gap, they understand each other better than anyone else.

The characters of this novel ultimately build up a deep connection between reader and narrative. Of course, Rob is a shining example of a relatable teenager whom many readers will grow to love. However, characters such as Andrew, Rob’s blunt best friend, and Agnes, a woman at a retirement home, should not be overlooked. They complement the events of the story in a warm, inviting, and often humorous way to create a complete and realistic narrative.

The chapters are short and sweet, which is perfectly suited to novice readers and avid readers alike. Though the plot is without immense tension or catastrophe, Jonsberg succeeds in keeping readers’ attention with every word of every page with his concise, no-frills writing style. Each chapter is flecked with unique humor, oft blunt and nonchalant, without taking away from the emotional journey that Rob undergoes as he learns to accept his identity and place in the world. This wonderful story encourages its readers to embrace their personal identity and truly dancing along to a song only they can hear.

Ultimately, A Song Only I Can Hear is a most charming and consumable novel for all ages, which teaches without condescension and entertains without pretension.

RRP: AU$16.99

For more information on Barry Jonsberg: Website

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Written by The Uyen Cao

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