Quick review for a progressive read. Katie Cotugno’s “Fireworks” was a struggle for me to read in places, but in the end, I’m glad I read it, especially considering the turns it took in the story. The ending was bittersweet and not quite the impression and direction I thought it would go given the beginnings of the story. Yet even saying that, I’ll admit I struggled to hold interest in the novel for a while.

The story is told through the viewpoint of Dana, a young woman stuck in a small town with a mother who drinks too much, a job that ended upon her graduation, and a struggle to decide how to escape what seems an inevitable future. Dana’s best friend Olivia seems to have everything that Dana doesn’t: a supportive family, a college career, and a chance to go to be a part of a pop group in what seems to be like an X-Factor music competition. Olivia begs Dana to accompany her to the competition, but Dana gets the shock of her life when she’s asked to be a part of the group after an impromptu competition. Alongside a budding relationship with a guy that’s a part of rising boy band maintained by the same manager, things seem to be going well in Dana’s circles despite rivalries with her group and rising tensions between herself and her best friend as the practices and training roll on.

One might think this is the kind of novel in which Dana is a special snowflake who gets everything she asks for (the prospective accidental singing career, the boy, the supportive best friend through thick and thin with some moments of emotional tension, etc.) and has a talent that makes her the TCO of the work: but that would be far off the mark, especially as the novel finally hits the ground running in a different direction after the midpoint of the novel. I appreciated that it wasn’t so predictable and unrealistic as to paint Dana as a practically perfect underdog heroine. She was selfish and immature on many fronts, but the novel showcases places where she makes mistakes, growing and learning from those decisions/interactions on her own accord. Her emotions are palpable to the encounters/betrayals/relationships she has.

Like Cotugno’s other novel “99 Days”, the decisions and interactions between the characters aren’t so much glorified as they are put into perspective relative to the interactions and passions of the characters within. For another point against the narrative, though, I felt an odd sense of detachment throughout the novel that kept it from being a more meaningful experience for me. For one, the pacing was very slow and the setup in the beginning is so cliche ridden and predictable that it was hard for me to feel invested in Dana’s experience. I mean, I got that she got the chance of a lifetime, something that seemed to offer an out to the downcast spiral her life seemed to be. Dana’s character, I understood, was incredibly passive and going with the flow, being the odd woman out among vocalists – including Olivia – who had been training their entire lives for the opportunity in this 90s-era singing competition (the novel takes place in the late 90s when boybands/girlbands are all the rage. There are spot references to frame the era, but they’re not superfluous. I’d argue that they also weren’t as immersive as they could’ve been, though.)

Dana’s narration through the novel is at an odd distance and lacks a passion/immersion that I would’ve thought could’ve grown with each experience she had with respect to her experiences in Orlando. The romance in this wasn’t poorly done for intent, but again – I felt like I couldn’t fully invest in it because of the way it was presented: telling more than it showed. The showcasing of the competition and relationships within was weirdly mechanical in dictation and I wish it could’ve been more intimate and invested.

The latter part of the novel was actually when I finally became invested as I watched the interactions between Dana and Olivia move in some fluctuating high and low tensions, ultimately culminating in something that was less than ideal. I had a feeling it would likely turn out that way after a point, but I was still surprised. I liked the direction, but I didn’t like the execution, and I almost wish that Olivia could’ve had a narrative perspective to see what she thought on the other end of the events that transpired in this story (because I feel like that would’ve held my attention by being a different take).

In the end, it was an okay novel, but not really one that I loved from Cotugno. I feel like it could’ve had much better execution for the intent and premise.

Overall score: 3/5 stars.

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