Charlie Daskin spends her summers away from the city, in a small town where she’s an outsider and in her many summers there, she’s never been able to fit in. She’s Charlie Dorkin to the neighbor kids Rose, Luke, and Dave, and now that Year 10 is over, she’s ready for the same old summer.
Rose, who lives in the small town, fears she’ll live the life of her mother: she’ll be stuck there forever. She wants nothing more than to live in the city, and when she passes an exam that would let her spend Years 11 and 12 at a big school in the city, she knows she’ll need to find a way to convince her mother that it’s the right path for her. Perhaps she should use Charlie as her way out of this town and into the big city.
A Little Wanting Song, in a word, is nice. Crowley’s writing style is pleasant, and the Australian slang and expressions are fun to read (and never distracting from the story line). This book is told in alternating voices, starting with Charlie and continuing on with Rose. Both girls are well drawn, with Charlie trying to find her way away from her home and through the grief over the loss of her mother and grandmother and Rose trying to find a way to get out of her town and into the big city.
Charlie is a musician, and throughout the book, her songs make appearances between chapters. There is a serious sense of wanting, both from Charlie and Rose, and the music draws together the girls who are otherwise quite opposite of one another. Beyond the obvious wanting here, there is a wanting on the part of the reader for the characters, too: while reading, I couldn’t help but feel horrible for Charlie, who was being blatantly used by Rose for her own purposes. But I couldn’t feel too bad because I also felt for Rose, who feared becoming her mother. I couldn’t quite blame her for wanting to do what she could to change her life’s situation.
Of course, there’s also a little romance in this book, and it is fun. Luke and Rose have always been an on again off again item, and now with Charlie being “accepted” into the group of friends, Dave and her have burgeoning feelings, as well. This truly is a life changing summer for each of the characters, who learn a lot about one another and themselves. This is the sort of book that teens anywhere will relate to, as everyone has been a Charlie or a Rose or a Dave or a Luke. Crowley’s ability to capture the teen experience was done quite well.
While the book picks up its pace as the story moves along, be prepared for a little bit of a slow start. Part of this comes from the fact that Charlie’s story meanders in its setting: it’s set in the present, but there are instances of flashbacks, so it’s essential to read this one carefully or it’d be easy to believe things are happening at the present when they’re really moments of the past being recalled. The pacing of this book reminded me of a Sarah Dessen novel; it’s a little slow as we learn about the characters but as we become more comfortable, the story picks up and ends before we know it. This is a book to hand to your Dessen fans, for sure.
I’m eager to track down more Crowley works in the future, as I’m also excited to tackle some of the other Australian titles on the Cybils list this year. The setting, while foreign, is quite familiar, and the expressions are enjoyable (even the characters seem to get a kick out of it: in Australia, underwear is referred to as “jocks” and Dave and Luke get a real kick out of talking about what a funny expression “jocks” is). The music in this book really sets the tone, and that will resonate loudly with readers who will easily find themselves understanding Charlie or Rose because they’re there or have been there before.