I’m about to read a book that I read many times in high school, and as an adult librarian often referenced as a great book: Midnight Hour Encores by Bruce Brooks.
Unlike my previous re-reads (P.S. I Love You and There’s a Bat in Bunk Five), this is what I considered one of the more “serious” books that I liked to read. In fact, lacking the phrase “realistic fiction” I usually just described this category as “regular books.” Here’s what I remember: a girl (who calls her father Taxi) asks to meet her mother. Because her father is such a unique individual he buys an authentic VW van and takes her on a road trip to meet her mother in San Francisco–all to help her understand that when her mother walked out on her (as a baby) it was because she was a free-spirited hippie who couldn’t be burdened with conventional motherhood. This is all news to the girl. The girl is an extremely talented cellist and makes her trip to San Francisco coincide with an audition for a prestigious music school. That’s the plot, but here are the feelings I remember: being in awe of her musical talent, thinking that her father was just so amazing, and finding it very inspiring all in all. I liked books about serious and talented teens and I thought this was one of the best books I had read. (Even then, though, I knew that the cover was total rubbish.) Let’s see if I still agree….
I really liked it and gave it 4 stars on Goodreads. I can see why it appealed to me: Sib is funny and smart, two qualities I always liked (and still do) in characters. Interestingly, though, I think my attitude towards Sib is pretty different now. To be frank, I found her kind of nasty and condescending. Before I go on, though, let me fill you in on the story as it actually happened.
Sibilance T. Spooner (who named herself at 8) lives her dad, whom she calls Taxi. I had remembered that Sibilance was a talented cello player; I’d forgotten that she is actually ranked 3rd or 4th in the world. So … a total prodigy. She has, as such, spent years travelling internationally competing and performing, and has had recording sessions. She has found a cello player who’s been in hiding for years and discovered where he is, and that is how her audition comes about. Taxi does drive her across country in an old VW bus, educating her along the way about the 1960s and culture of the time. Reading this was like being with an old familiar friend: I couldn’t believe how many of the sentences jumped right back into my mind (this book is beautifully written.) Like I said, though, my attitude towards the characters was a little different. It could be (gasp!) that I was relating more to the parent, Taxi, than Sibilance this time.
You’re wondering, though, how it held up in terms of being dated? This has a publication date of 1986, which made me think “oh, it’s not that old.” Then I did the math and realized it’s 26 years old. Probably the main glaring dated aspect is how Sibilance listens to her music and makes her recordings: on vinyl records. Another major part of the storyline is how an artist in a Communist country would be punished, defect, be silenced, etc. That might be a bit of history that a teen today wouldn’t quite get, but it’s fairly well explained in the book. And that’s really it.
I had a lot of reactions and questions–why didn’t Taxi and her mother simply discuss the next step? Is it realistic that Taxi would have just not played the guitar for all those years? Do Taxi and Sib have a good relationship?–but I realized these are the sorts of things I would talk about in a book discussion. So it looks like after all these years, not only do I still like the story, but it still gets me excited to pick it apart and talk about it. So if you like books about precocious talented teenagers discovering their family history, why not give this a try? It even has a better cover now :)
For some more contemporary titles about talented teens, take a look at our suggestions for ballet themed titles as well as the Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list On That Note: Music and Musicians (Midnight Hour Encores is on this list.)
If the aspect of the book that appeals to you most is Sibilance and Taxi’s road trip (with all the self discovery that usually implies) you might like the 2009 PPYA list Journey and Destination. Or try some of these selections:
- Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson (a 2011 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults selection): Amy and Roger must both learn to deal with loss while on a road trip across the country which doesn’t go as expected.
- So B. It by Sarah Weeks (a 2005 Best Books for Young Adults selection): Twelve-year-old Heidi–whose mother’s severe mental disability limits her to only being able to articulate 23 words, sounds, or short phrases–embarks on a journey to discover the truth of her mom’s and her own past.
- Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (a 2006 BBYA selection): The 13 blue envelopes Ginny receives from her Aunt Peg will take her through Europe and change her life.
- Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer (a 1999 BBYA selection): Jenna Boller at 17 years old gets an offer from her employer to drive her during the summer to Texas stopping along the way at her chain of shoe stores. Not only does Jenna develop more as a shoe salesperson, she learns that she has the strength to stand up to her alcoholic father.
- Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (the 1995 Newbery Award winner): The story of Sal’s search for her mother and her own discovery of herself. You might especially enjoy the audio version of this book; it was a 1999 Amazing Audiobook!
–Sarah Debraski, currently in 1930s England wrapped up in Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series
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