My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I’ve followed Sarah McCarry’s blog since her early days as the awesome and anonymous Rejectionist, and when I saw that her book was coming out, I was thrilled. When I read the premise and the first page–both of which were posted early at her blog–I was obsessed.
McCarry has mentioned that Francesca Lia Block’s writing informed a lot of her own, and between the lyrical prose and the mystical premise, it isn’t hard to see how. The nameless narrator has grown up like a sister to her best friend, the beautiful extreme Aurora. They have the kind of easy camaraderie and complex communication that defines close female relationships, and until the day they meet Jack, an almost supernaturally talented musician, nothing has ever come between them.
Contrary to what I expected, the story didn’t start out bleak. With the exception of their parents and their upbringings, and a few allusions to how strange both of those are, the first third of the story is surprisingly normal. I loved those descriptions of summer days, falling in love and running wild between jobs and the occasional few hours of sleep.
The narrator’s burgeoning relationship with Jack starts off a little fast and reckless perhaps. Their early first kiss made me wonder if the connection they both recognized would extend to anything beyond the physical, but any doubts of mine faded by the next chapter. If anything, I fell in love with Jack just as much as the girls did. I craved more glimpses into his past, his life outside music.
Most of the Greek-inspired mythos and culture cropped up in the second half of the story, and that was also when the tension ratcheted up. Because of the comparatively light-hearted first half, the sudden increase in tension could’ve been choppy or uneven, but managed to largely avoid both. The scenes that set up the narrator’s slow descent into the understanding of hell and how closely it intertwines with her friends were creepy because they weren’t completely far-fetched. In fact, the horror came from wondering how much of the nightmare was real.
Hell wasn’t as terrifying as it’s sometimes portrayed in other fiction, and that worked for me too. I spent a large portion of the climax alternatively pitying and fearing everyone involved. And that ending! The final few pages left me gaping, wishing I had more pages to turn.
McCarry’s next book comes out in a year, I think, and as much as “All Our Pretty Songs” lived up to my expectations, I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel.