Kaleidoscope Song - Fox Benwell

Fifteen year old Neo loves music, it punctuates her life and shapes the way she views the world. A life in radio is all she’s ever wanted. When Umzi Radio broadcasts live in a nearby bar Neo can’t resist. She sneaks out to see them, and she falls in love, with music, and the night, but also with a girl: Tale has a voice like coffee poured into a bright steel mug, and she commands the stage.

It isn’t normal. Isn’t right. Neo knows that she’s supposed to go to school and get a real job and find a nice young boy to settle down with. It’s written everywhere – in childhood games, and playground questions, in the textbooks, in her parents’ faces. But Tale and music are underneath her skin, and try as she might, she can’t stop thinking about them.

Warning: Spoilers  /  TW: Corrective rape, physical abuse

This book is hard. I want to say I love it, but that seems like the wrong word for a novel that touches on such intense topics (physical abuse, excommunication, corrective rape, death), and yet the writing and emotional intensity is so strong that to use a word less than love would, I feel, not do justice to Benwell's work.

For a long time, when I heard of a book containing rape or death (particularly where queer narratives are concerned) I would roll my eyes and be all, "Great, another kill-your-gays book... Thanks, but no thanks." But this book is from Fox Benwell, and I had a chance to talk to his editor, who couldn't stop talking about it, so I figured I'd better give it a chance. And I'm glad I did. 

Corrective rape as a concept isn't something that, at least in my experience, is talked about very much, or else is mentioned in passing as something from "over there." *person waves absent-mindedly to those overseas countries* While much of the book is about Neo, music, and the joy of finding love in the midst of an unaccepting society, the treatment of the girls once they are discovered is heartbreaking, and also revealing. Rape in this case is not just about power (though that's a huge part of it) but also a tool to "correct" aberrant sexuality. I just... yeah, heartbreaking is the word.

BUT, though it sounds like the book is just going to lead to sadness in the end, I promise that there is a hopefulness to the ending as well. There is a sadness, a complicated notion of a possibly productive queer future, and a drive to work for a betterment of society. Benwell's writing avoids didacticism, but there is a lot of revealing information within the text as well. Readers who want to know more won't be disappointed with the back matter included (Author's Note, Resources, Discography, etc.)

Though I can't really say I recommend this book in the traditional sense, I definitely think that it is a necessary book and that teachers, librarians, parents, friends, and colleagues who know their readership will know the right hands for this book. I think a somewhat similar title for comparison (at least in terms of the music, physical violence, and searching for identity) would be Beautiful Music for Ugly Children.

(NOTE: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out Sept. 2017)

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