My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are relatively few books that I find myself rendered speechless upon, and Melina Marchetta’s “The Piper’s Son” certainly qualifies among the esteemed few. I’m impressed with so much about it as an overall story – it hit me in a place I didn’t expect to be hit. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its share of cons versus pros, but this story did so much for and to me in the experience of reading it. One thing to keep in mind is that when reading a story, every person’s experience with reading it varies widely – what may work for one person may not for another. I’m well aware that among some of my friends and followers, this book varies in the wide medium between loved and critiqued.
What I can say in my overarching reflections of this novel is that it may take a while for the reader to get to know the situation and characters in the rolling dynamic this story has to offer, but it’s well worth the journey taken. “The Piper’s Son” is a sequel to Marchetta’s “Saving Francesca.” From my perspective, you really don’t need to read SF if you want to read “The Piper’s Son” – but it helps. It helps having a color to some of the characters that are already here. Having read “Saving Francesca”, it was a warm welcome back to some of the cast of characters I knew from that novel, and watching them expand as young adults was certainly a pleasure.
What you need to know is that “The Piper’s Son” follows two primary viewpoints in the course of the narrative. The first is Thomas (Tom) MacKee, a 21 year old musician struck with the grief of losing his uncle Joe, distanced himself from the only girl he’s ever truly loved (Tara Finke), been abandoned by his father at a time when Tom needed him most, dropped out of uni, and is thrown out by his flatmates as well as jobless. We meet Tom in the beginning of the novel stumbling out of the hospital and reluctantly helped by an old friend (Francesca) while coming to terms with the aftermath of events. Tom goes to live with his aunt Georgie – who serves as the second primary narrative in this work. Georgie has her own share of problems, grieving over Joe, worried about her brother, pregnant with a child she feels conflicted over, and ultimately trying to come to terms with so many of her own issues.
What made this novel so special to me was how intricate the experiences of each character came across, and the detail taken so that it’s easy to get into their minds and reactions to what goes on around them. It may seem from the premise that there’s a lot of drama to be had in this story, but it really doesn’t come across in a way that feels inauthentic or distanced. Tom is a young man who isn’t the most likable character in his actions/reactions in spurts, but Marchetta beautifully portrays him as someone who is shouldering a great deal of mental blows and the road he takes through his fragmented family and coming to terms with his own actions/reactions. I honestly wanted to hug him for what he’s had to deal with and just wanted things to turn around for him. For Georgie, I felt the same way. It’s interesting that, even while considering this is a young adult novel, we get such a intricate of Georgie’s perspective too despite her being an adult character, but she’s such a part of Tom’s experiences. And she deals with so much in her respective mental sphere that it would be difficult to imagine her narrative not being an intricate part of this. It’s like seeing the whole picture of a completed puzzle and figuring where the pieces of each character fit and where they don’t.
It’s really a story of family, relationships, dealing with grief, and a coming to terms that – I just don’t see very many people writing in YA who approach their stories with such intimacy or this level of character competence and consequence. I really don’t. Even as an aspiring writer myself, I found so much to take from the experience of reading this as well because it hits so many points of what I like to take from the stories I read – it’s the story of the characters it shapes and shows their experiences, delves into what meaning that has, presents the conflict with such an ease that you feel what’s happening with one character, but at the same time realize/recognize the impact of the other characters or setting within the scene. Tom and Georgie are compelling to watch go through these motions, and ultimately it’s rewarding to see how their respective lives are pieced back together and how they move forward.
I’m not sure how much else to say about it other than the journey was well worth taking, and it’s one I would encourage reading for both the experience and narrative strengths. I’d rank this alongside how much I enjoyed Marchetta’s “On the Jellicoe Road,” though I have to note that this novel was a little easier for me to get into than “Jellicoe Road”. Marchetta has this style of rolling narrative where she jumps right into presenting the characters, personalities, and story, and while it may take a little bit to even out with the many people who are central to the lives of both Tom and Georgie, it’s worth seeing how they all crash, crush, and collide with each other. Certainly one of my favorite reads from this year, and one I wouldn’t mind coming back to.
Overall score: 5/5