Summary: A Song Called Home
A Song Called Home is YA author Sara Zarr’s middle grade debut. It follows Lou as her mom remarries a man named Steve. Lou and her sister Casey have to move from the city to the suburbs to live with Steve, leaving behind their old schools and Lou’s best friend Beth Tsai. Forming this new family is hard on Lou and Casey for different reasons. Lou feels like she’s leaving their alcoholic father behind and Casey worries that Steve is being too nice and the “real Steve” will show up soon. On the day before their move (which is also Lou’s birthday) Lou finds a guitar right outside their old apartment addressed to her. Convinced it’s from her dad, she starts learning to play guitar to maintain that bond with him. As they all navigate the blending of their families, Lou learns about herself and what family truly means.
I loved this story! There’s something warm and transporting about the way it’s written. You feel like you’re right there with Lou and her family as they figure out their blending family. Lou and Casey have to deal with having a father with an alcohol problem. He’s also not very in touch with his emotions and has taught his girls to be the same. Steve, on the other hand, is a family man who loves cooking and encourages Lou to feel her feelings.
There’s a realistic, warm dynamic between the girls and their mother as well as their financial challenges before the mom marries Steve. Another interesting element is that the family is religious. They go to church every week and associate with their church community outside of church attendance — something that’s rare in middle grade literature. I can only remember Swinarski’s Abby in What Happens Next attending church regularly.
Lou seems to struggle with some version of kleptomania, even if it’s not stated. She steals when she’s stressed and this causes a rift in her friendship with her BFF Beth Tsai. I liked seeing how the girls resolved the situation (and it took me back to my tween years and asking for forgiveness after offending a friend). Finally, I loved the relationship between Casey and Lou and their neighbors and I liked seeing Lou learn guitar.
Overall: A Song Called Home
A Song Called Home is a realistic, heartrending depiction of the process of blending a family while dealing with the trauma of having an alcoholic parent. This book centers a girl who’s coming of age even as her family seems to be evolving before her eyes. Excellently written with well-drawn characters who feel familiar and relatable, this one is going to be loved by readers young and old alike. If you like books about sisters, family, community, and music, pick this up ASAP.