Published by Allen & Unwin on 29th March 2017
Format: Paperback, Finished Review Copy
Boffins, Dymocks, Booktopia, Publisher
A celebration of being a little bit odd, finding your people and the power of music to connect us.
For Steffi, going to school everyday is an exercise in survival. She's never fit in with any of the groups at school, and she's viciously teased by the other girls in her class. The only way she escapes is through her music--especially jazz music.
When Steffi hears her favourite jazz song playing through an open window of a retirement home on her walk home from school, she decides to go in and introduce herself. The old man playing her favorite song is Alvar. When Alvar was a teenager in World War II Sweden, he dreamed of being in a real jazz band. Then and now, Alvar's escape is music--especially jazz music.
Through their unconventional friendship, Steffi comes to realise that she won't always feel alone. She can go to music school in Stockholm. She can be a real musician. She can be a jitterbug, just like Alvar.
But how can Steffi convince her parents to let her go to Stockholm to audition? And how is it that Steffi's school, the retirement home, the music and even Steffi's worst bully are somehow all connected to Alvar? Can it be that the people least like us are the ones we need to help us tell our own stories?
Wonderful Feels Like This was a beautiful coming of age story, and something completely different from what I’ve been reading recently, and turned out to be a refreshing contemporary about an unlikely friendship between retiree Alvar and schoolgirl Steffi after they discover their mutual love for all things jazz.
Steffi Herrera is a fifteen year old who loves jazz – especially Pavel Romel and wants to be a great musician one day too. Her quiet demeanour doesn’t fit in with the other kids at school, who torment her relentlessly with name calling, slut shaming and more. It’s in her music that she finds solace, and the power of words and lyrics that gives her strength day in and day out. On the way home from school one day, she hears her favourite piece of jazz, and meets Alvar, a resident in a retirement home in her small town of Bjorke. The pair quickly bond over their shared love for Pavel Romel, and Alvar delights Steffi with tales of his adventures growing up in neutral Sweden during World War Two.
The dual narration in this story was one of my favourite parts. Learning about a country I know little about – both historically and in general, was completely refreshing in a spate of generic reads over the past couple of weeks. It was interesting to see and recognise the parallels between both Steffi’s and Alvar’s life growing up – albeit at two very different periods of time. Alvar’s story of a young, nervous country boy moving to the big city of Stockholm at the age of seventeen at the height of World War Two was adorable and heartwarming all the way through, and really touching. From Alvar’s stories, we get to see Steffi shine as she comes into herself. His stories give her the hope she needs to continue with her music, and to stand up against her bullies. Despite the doubts that every teenager gets, Steffi was able to persevere, knowing that there was something more for her than small town life and that knowledge she carried with her throughout the whole novel.
A surprising (but completely commendable and lovely aspect) was the understated message of diversity throughout the novel. I love reading about different cultures, and don’t do it nearly enough. Steffi might be a Swede, but her father – or Pappita – is Spanish, and it was interesting to see his cultural influence on his family and in Steffi’s life, especially from a non-English speaking perspective. I need to read more novels like this!! Another theme of the novel was identity. Steffi’s bullies often used lesbian as a slur, and this was something Steffi struggled with throughout the book. Because she didn’t find any of her classmates attractive, does this make her a lesbian? And what’s so wrong about that? The way Steffi draws her own conclusions was empowering to say the least.
As much as enjoyed this novel, I found aspects of it lacking at times. I felt like was on the outside looking in – never really connecting with the story. I wish there’d been a bit more depth and exploration between the characters – most of it seemed surface level, never really getting any deeper. I just liked it – I didn’t love it. I wanted so much more – more from the relationship between Alvar and Steffi. I felt that the ending was a little bit too quick, and then it was over. But in saying that, Wonderful Feels Like This was a heartwarming story that all ages will be able to enjoy.
Wonderful Like This by Sara Lovestam is published by Allen & Unwin and is now available from all good bookstores (support your local!) for RRP$29.99