Title: Ballads of Suburbia
Author: Stephanie Kuehnert
There are so many ballads. Achy breaky country songs. Mournful pop songs. Then there’s the rare punk ballad, the ballad of suburbia: louder, faster, angrier . . . till it drowns out the silence.
Kara hasn’t been back to Oak Park since the end of junior year, when a heroin overdose nearly killed her and sirens heralded her exit. Four years later, she returns to face the music. Her life changed forever back in high school: her family disintegrated, she ran around with a whole new crowd of friends, she partied a little too hard, and she fell in love with gorgeous bad boy Adrian, who left her to die that day in Scoville Park. . . .
Amidst the music, the booze, the drugs, and the drama, her friends filled a notebook with heartbreakingly honest confessions of the moments that defined and shattered their young lives. Now, finally, Kara is ready to write her own
*warning* here be spoilers
Man, I loved this book.
That's all there is to it: I.Loved.This.Book.
I'm not even sure how to begin this review. I'm completly at a loss for words at how to describe the awesomeness of Ballads of Suburbia. There is no way I can capture the heartbreaking reality of Stephanie Kuehnert's prose or the tragic way I devoted myself to every character. There is absolutley NO WAY to describe how happy I am that I am not alone in my PJ Harvey obsession. NONE.
Well, here's the quote that starts it off:
"If you made a book of what really happened, it'd be a really upsetting book"
--Angela Chase, My So-Called Life
Kara and Stacey are outsiders--from the moment they met on the plaground on Kara's first day of school, it was them against the world. Parents who didn't understand and classmates who picked on them for not wearing the right shoes ruled their lives until, eventually, the music took over. They were best friends, until one day, when Stacey's mother announces they are to move to a lower-rent apartment. In another school district.
This is the beginning of two things. One; Kara's relationship with her brother and two; it's the day she begins to cut herself.
I don't want to delve to deeply into the plot right in the beginning, because upon reflection it's really not important; what's important is everything that happens after Stacey left and Kara was left alone with no one but MTV and her little brother to console her.
Okay, I'll get straight to the chase: I loved these characters. Loved them.
They came off so real to me, not as just one-demensional sidekicks playing second banana to the main protagonist's little issues. A book of "ballads"--confessions of the suburban punk rockers who dominate the storline--gives real insight into every single character. Even has the characters bounce from Bad Guy to Good Guy and back again, you still sympathize with them...it's uncanny.
I think that's the part that gets people--the individual ballads. It gives everyone their own story, their own reasons for doing what they do. It makes them all the sweeter to read about. Like Christian, whom I loved to death, even after what he did to Kara and Maya. You should think he's a jerk, you know, intelligently, that he's no good, that you should have seen it coming from the moment he threatened Mary and Jessica. But you don't. Partly because he seems so harmless, yeah. But mostly because you know why he does it. You read his ballad, and you feel like you know him, and you really don't want to think of him like that. You just don't, and I think this is Ms. Kuehnert strongest suit--making you feel for the supposed "bad guy".
The writing style isn't flawless, of course. There are some things I would have re-worded, switched around and all that. But there is still something about it that makes it true storytelling. Not just a narrative, not just a girl watching watching her friends destroy themselves. There is a certain connection with the reader that makes you feel like your there, and you right beside Kara the whole time.
The plot is a difficult one, something a lot of authors can't really pull off without sounding hoaky or preachy. There is no difinitive revelation at the end, no one seeing the light and changing their ways with a little help from their friends. It is realistic, which might be upsetting to some people, but to me, it was perfect.
I especially love the musical undertones to it--myself being a huge music junkie. The character's lives are pretty much wrapped around music and the punk subculture that they belong too. It perfectly describes the angst and rebellion of the neglected suburban kids of the ninties, overcome by sex, drugs and rock n' roll. In front of every ballad, there are lyrics that are relevent to the character's stories, all of them tying in with the script Kara and her friends make out of newspaper articles--the "Stories Of Suburbia".
I especially love these lyrics by The Replacements:
"We are the sons of no one, bastards of young"
My favorite character was Adrian--even when he took his turn as 'the bad guy', even at the end when he still hadn't changed, even when he made it really hard to like him, I loved him. I love how he doesn't sleep with Kara because she's on of the only girls he respects, I love how he hurts her to help her, because he doesn't want to see her in pain. I love how he's so tragic without meaning to be. And I love his tattoos. I'm a sucker, though. :)
The author does a lovely job of getting inside every character's head, making them so real that it breaks your heart whenever they're hurting. Ms. Kuehnert is definetly a suberb writer, and I look forward to anything she may have in store for us.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Also: Here's a book trailer:
...and an excerp from the prologue, which is really the epilogue, which you can also get at Stephanie's website:
"And the embers never fade in your city by the lake
The place where you were born."
Sirens and lights welcomed me back to the suburbs of Chicago. It seemed fitting. Symbolic, considering they'd also heralded my exit. And it couldn't have happened anywhere else: only a Berwyn cop would pull Stacey over for rolling a stop sign, cash in on her total lack of insurance, but not notice the underlying stench of pot smoke on us. It clung to Stacey's auburn ponytail, my freshly-dyed black hair, and the clothing beneath both of our winter coats. I'll never know how he missed it. A rare stroke of good luck? The karma I was owed for agreeing to come home in the first place?
Welp, that's it for now, folks. Now, if you'll excuse me, The Sandman awaits.