Published by Dial Books on March 19, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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A romantic comedy that sweeps you up with breezy writing and canny social commentary, set behind the scenes of the classical music world during one hot, anything-can-happen, New York City summer
Ruby has always been Ruby Chertok future classical pianist, heir to the Chertok family legacy, daughter of renowned composer Martin Chertok. But after bungling her audition for the prestigious Amberley School of Music--where her father is on faculty--Ruby is suddenly just . . . Ruby. And who is that again? All she knows is that she wants out of the orbit of her relentlessly impressive family, and away from the world of classical music for good. Yes? Yes.
Oscar is a wunderkind, a musical genius. Just ask any of the 1.8 million people who've watched him conduct his own compositions on YouTube--or hey, just ask Oscar. But while he might be the type who'd name himself when asked about his favorite composer and somehow make you love him more for it, Oscar is not the type to jeopardize his chance to study under the great Martin Chertok--not for a crush. He's all too aware of how the ultra-privileged, ultra-white world of classical music might interpret a black guy like him falling for his benefactor's white daughter. Right? Right.
But as the New York City summer heats up, so does the spark between Ruby and Oscar. Soon their connection crackles with the same alive, uncontainable energy as the city itself. But can two people still figuring themselves out figure out how to be together? Or will the world make the choice for them?
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
When I first heard about Night Music, I thought I must have been dreaming. A YA contemporary by one of my favorite authors in that genre, centering around teenagers pursuing classical music careers over the course of one New York City summer? This book seemed made for me. And while Night Music was not at all what I anticipated it would be, it ended up grabbing my heart in fresh, unexpected ways.
“It’s love.” Oscar peered at the ceiling again. “Most classical music is. Not all, but most. You know…” He rolled over to face me. “I can appreciate all kinds of music, I really can. I think there’s something there. But hip-hop, pop, it speaks to front, you know? It’s the face you show to the world, what you want to project. Classical speaks right to what you’re feeling. What you long for.”*
Our protagonist in Night Music, Ruby Chertok, is the daughter of one of the classical music world’s most beloved conductors and composers. Though she has trained as a pianist her entire life and has grown up immersed in this world, she’s quickly realizing her future might lie outside of music. We follow Ruby both mourning the loss of music as the part of her life she always expected it to be, and her finding her footing in the “real world” outside of her family’s shadow.
A teenage composer named Oscar Bell, who is the rising star of the classical music scene after a video of him conducting an original arrangement went viral on YouTube, shows up on Ruby’s doorstep at the beginning of the summer to study with her father. Ruby and Oscar bond over their shared love of (and their shared complicated feelings toward) music, and their feelings for each other grow into romantic ones pretty quickly.
“Okay,” Oscar said, hopping up on the counter. “How about, Mozart nails what I want falling in love to feel like.” He let his legs swing out, back in. “If I could choose, I’d much rather have that purity, that peace, that grace to come home to than any drama, however gorgeous and sweeping and complex and… you get it.”*
A huge thread in Night Music revolves around the racism, both overt and covert, in the classical music world. This is something that, as someone who has studied music all my life, has deeply bothered me. Even though I went to an incredible diverse university, I did not see that racial diversity reflected in my School of Music, where my colleagues were disproportionately white. This could lead into further conversations about the inherent privilege it requires to study music, but we’ll save that for another day. 😉 In Night Music, we see the way the people in power on the classical music scene in New York City (donors, managers, press, etc.) constantly manipulate Oscar’s identity as a black man and use it to further their own ends. The book really highlighted the microaggressions people of color face on a daily basis, both inside and outside of the music world. It shows how the odds are automatically stacked against POC trying to make careers for themselves in music, and it did so without feeling tokenistic or preachy. (I am white, as is the author, so take my opinion with a heaping handful of salt. I cannot speak to the quality of the racial rep.)
The part of this story that struck a chord (pun definitely intended) with me most was Ruby’s journey of trying to find her identity outside of music. Not to get too personal, but ever since I left school and took a job outside the music field, I’ve felt intensely disconnected from this part of me that was pretty much my entire life for a decade. Reading about a character dealing with these same struggles– a character who still had such a deep love for music, and who didn’t lack talent, but whose heart just wasn’t in it anymore, no matter how much she wanted it to be– meant more to me than I can express. It made Night Music an extremely cathartic read for me, which I totally wasn’t expecting. We also get discussion of Ruby trying to forge her own identity outside the looming shadows of her parents and her older siblings, all of whom are classical celebrities.
“I mourned belonging to this. I probably always would.”*
I loved Oscar and Ruby’s romance so very much. Seeing them navigate the challenges in their individual lives together was a joy to read, and their relationship felt very true-to-life. They make mistakes, they apologize, they communicate– all very refreshing in YA romance. There is no shortage of witty banter between the two MCs– who, by the way, are both SO FUNNY on their own, too. Plus, I mean, come on: can you think of a better backdrop for a teenage love story than a summer studying music amongst the elite of New York City?
Of course, I also loved all the music talk. Every time a piece was name-dropped, anytime Ruby and Oscar got into a discussion about Mozart, whenever there was talk of pedagogy– all of the little things that only people whose lives have revolved around music would catch– it made my heart soar. Night Music feels like such a love letter to the classical music world (but also acknowledges that the things we love are not without flaws). Reading this book gave me a sense of home and comfort that I hadn’t realized I’d been missing since music school ended. Also, the last paragraph of the acknowledgements made me cry.
Overall, I felt an intensely personal connection to this book, but it’s also just a cute YA contemporary with excellent social commentary I think so many readers will fall for. I highly recommend picking this one up this spring!
*all quotations are taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change in the final copy
Have you read Night Music? What are your favorite books that involve music or musicians?