October 02, 2006

Befuddling Fiddling

Wow -- Becky's sure a loser. Her hair is awful, her clothes are awful, and even her PE teacher seems to really dislike her -- she calls her Fiddlehead, because she ducks the ball in volleyball so she won't hurt her hands for violin. EVERYTHING Becky does is wrong, wrong, wrong.

At home, things are even worse. Becky's little brother, Benjy, is the prodigy of the household. He and his smart friends put out a funny newspaper called The Splinter - Becky would never have thought of anything like that. She thinks she wants to be a musician. Becky's been trying to play the violin for ages, but her violin teacher is so mean -- and Becky is so shy -- that the group classes at the Y are a misery.

Becky and Benjy's mother can't understand why Becky can't play as well as Ramsay Adkins, the beautiful, blonde rich girl who goes to Becky's school. Becky's mother can't understand anything why Becky sweats so much, why Becky practically cries during her lessons, or anything about Becky, and Becky is wrapped in misery and unhappiness with the mean boys at violin, with the mean girls at school, with the mean teacher at PE, with the mean world at large. Everyone seems to be against Becky, and Becky wishes her Dad was still alive.

Just when EVERYTHING is coming apart, Becky is saved -- by the maintenance man in her building. He hears her playing her violin -- slaughtering her scales -- and he gives her a few suggestions -- Just a few notes, really, played on his harmonica. Suddenly, Becky sees a world of play where before there was a world of drudgery. She adjusts her posture, and her attitude. She decides that musical notes aren't something she has to track down and squish. Maybe she can just... play them? Play with them? The maintenance man, Mr. Freeman, reminds Becky so much of her father, and between herself and Benjy, and a boy at school who is might kind of like her, Becky constructs a world that is almost as good as having a Mom who likes her, and almost as good as maybe having her Dad back. Her playing is going so well, Becky almost convinces herself that she can play well enough for an art school scholarship until she finds out that a.) Ramsay Adkins is also playing for the art school scholarship... and b.) her Mom finds Mr. Freeman in their apartment, threatens him, and tells Becky that her violin is going back to the rental shop, and that she won't be playing another note.

Becky teeters on the edge of falling apart again... until her brother helps her finds her strength. Splinters might get stepped on, Benjy reminds her, but they always get you back! Befiddled is a fast-paced, over-the-top kind of novel that grabs readers and makes them identify with the dramatic main character quickly. A first novel by Pedro de Alacantara, an actual music teacher, the instrumental techniques and the technical information about the violin are right on-target, and might even make some readers feel an interest in playing an instrument. Though I found some of the teachers taunting Becky to be a bit unbelievable, it's a great read, and the humorous issues of The Splinter which begin each chapter are charming and help move the story forward quickly.

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