Wednesday, April 13, 2011

RIVAL by Sara Bennett Wealer

Young Adult Contemporary
HarperTeen, 2011
ISBN 978-0-06-182762-4
First edition hardcover
Source: library
Meet Brooke: Popular, powerful and hating every minute of it, she’s the “It” girl at Douglas High in Lake Champion, Minnesota. Her real ambition? Using her operatic mezzo as a ticket back to NYC, where her family lived before her dad ran off with an up and coming male movie star.

Now meet Kathryn: An overachieving soprano with an underachieving savings account, she’s been a leper ever since Brooke punched her at a party junior year. For Kath, music is the key to a much-needed college scholarship.

The stage is set for a high-stakes duet between the two seniors as they prepare for the prestigious Blackmore competition. Brooke and Kathryn work toward the Blackmore with eyes not just on first prize but on one another, each still stinging from a past that started with friendship and ended in betrayal. With competition day nearing, Brooke dreams of escaping the in-crowd for life as a professional singer, but her scheming BFF Chloe has other plans. And when Kathryn gets an unlikely invitation to Homecoming, she suspects Brooke of trying to sabotage her with one last public humiliation.

As pressures mount, Brooke starts to sense that the person she hates most might just be the best friend she ever had. But Kathryn has a decision to make. Can she forgive? Or are some rivalries for life?

The story of Rival is more than just a simple rivalry. While the singing competition between Brooke and Kathryn definitely drives the plot, what really engaged me throughout the book was their relationship, both past and present.

I'm not usually a fan of the flashback technique, but for this story it totally worked. Wealer gives the reader just enough information at just the right times, about just the right things. You develop real sympathy for both Kathryn and Brooke--you want them both to win, but you know they can't both win. I honestly had no idea who was going to win at the end, or how it would all go down. Until the moment it happened.

As a former "dedicated violinist" and current "casual pianist" (playing music was 90% of my childhood and is now 10% of my adulthood), I tend to be especially critical of music-oriented fiction. Any misinformation or liberal stretching of the truth will immediately turn me off. Rival did not do that. Not one bit. Wealer even used musical terms as section headings, cleverly relating their definitions to the events of the story. For example, the first section is labeled, Dissonance: a harsh sounding of notes that produces a feeling of tension and unrest.


The skillful presentation of the story combined with Wealer's crisp writing style and clear musical know-how made Rival an instant favorite for me. 5 of 5 stars.


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