The Music We Make is an electric whirlwind of every type of emotion. These emotions are displayed through the perspectives of Santiago, a lost soul who has just lost his mother to a terrible car accident, and Kitty Holladay, a music producer who offers Santiago another chance at life, but with some unknowing consequences. This book shows the heart-wrenching realities of life, grief, guilt, tiresome resilience, and living with the cards that you have been dealt.
The writing is packed full of engaging dialogue that really brings the book to life. The characters talk to each other in a way that is not wooden, in a way that show their flaws and quirks and ultimately feels very grounded in reality. The writing is a treat for the senses; throughout, they are all engaged in a manner that immerses the reader into this world. Because of the fantastic momentum and pacing of the novel, we feel as though we are stood alongside Santiago as he revaluates his life after his mother’s death.
Grief is the undercurrent of the plot- it impacts every decision and thought that Santiago has. What was really refreshing about the novel was how openly it shows grief as something to be felt, not suppressed. A particularly compelling quote on this subject is “It’s okay to be sad sometimes, Vita Mia. If we take care, our emotions will work for us, not against us”. The book unashamedly explores the different stages and ways of dealing with grief as an exploration of human nature through a flawed yet relatable and likable central protagonist, rather than trying to coerce the reader into judging how one is ‘supposed’ to grieve. In a way, I was more interested in the way that this subject was dealt with than the actual plot content.
The book is very effective in exploring family bonds and how trauma can shake relationships, particularly between Santiago and his father, and between Santiago, Kitty and Sophia. What we see is an interesting range of three-dimensional characters who are all struggling in their own way, who cannot help but pour the pain they are feeling into their relationships with others. Trauma and guilt is also shown to greatly damage the sense of self. For example, including self-loving affirmations to mark new calendar days was a great move by DeBellis, as this functions both as a hint of Santiago’s mood and also shows his decline in mental health, due to his disinterest in engaging with them after a while. DeBellis has a fantastic showing-not-telling style of writing that can be difficult to master.
I would recommend this book specifically to readers who have experienced the loss of a loved one. While the novel will not fix the hole in your heart, you may find some company in its characters.
-By Sam Bland for Reedsy.com
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