A moving YA debut about a talented young singer struggling with the death of her mother, performance anxiety, and love during her first year at a prestigious performing arts school. “Anglophiles, music and theater nerds, and those looking for some classic will-they-won’t-they romance will all find something to enjoy here.” —Kirkus Reviews Former West End performer and author Vanessa Jones delivers a well-crafted journey of grief and healing in her YA debut novel about Nettie Delaney, a young singer who has just lost her mother and been accepted into a prestigious performing arts school―the very same school her superstar mother attended. With her mother’s shadow hanging over her, Nettie has her work cut out for her―and everyone is watching. To make matters worse, she hasn’t been able to sing a single note since her mother died. Whenever she tries, she just clams up. But if Nettie’s going to survive a demanding first year and keep her place in a highly coveted program, she’ll have to work through her grief, find her voice, and deliver a showstopper. Or face expulsion.
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To her surprise, she gets in to the prestigious school anyway, likely because her mother was such a renowned ballerina. Once she attends, she finds she is still unable to sing in front of anyone, her teachers and some of the students are bullies, and she still misses her mother terribly.
What I loved: The portrayal of grief here is really well done. We really feel her grief and the pain that she continues to feel, which manifests in her anxiety over singing - something she had always loved. Nettie is struggling, and this felt really genuine, as she tries to live in a world where her mother is no longer physically present but emotionally still so real.
What left me wanting more: I found a lot of the characters to be one-dimensional, and I wanted more complexity. I also felt like some really big issues were brought up rather bluntly and dismissed. For instance, she is physically abused by one of the teachers and fat-shamed (her confidence renders her immune, but we see this play out in other students), and considering how vulnerable she seems, none of this really seems to phase her at all. I would have liked a deeper discussion of these, as this can be quite harmful. As another topic warning, there is also a mention of sexual abuse (past) from another character.
Final verdict: SING LIKE NO ONE'S LISTENING is a book about grief and the process of living after the loss of a loved one. This may work for younger YA readers as long as there are discussions of some of the difficult themes around the reading.