The Song Reader
Lisa Tucker
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Buy *The Song Reader* online

The Song Reader
Lisa Tucker
Pocket Books
320 pages
May 2003
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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For a first novel, Lisa Tucker's The Song Reader is quite amazing -- lyrically written, funny and sad, eccentric and entertaining. It crosses the border between literary writing and popular prose; it has one foot in each camp for its wisdom and staying power. Although the story is thoroughly original, it also explores the eternal theme of coming of age.

What a wonderful premise. As the subtitle says, "Can the lyrics to a song reveal the secrets of the heart?" How many of us have wondered that as we subconsciously hum the songs we heard in the supermarket or old Beatles' songs? What do people think of us based on our choice of tunes?

The story, set in the '80s in small-town Missouri (Tucker herself grew up in Missouri), centers on two sisters. Mary Beth, twelve years older, is a"song reader/life healer." She helps people with their love and family relationships through listening to and interpreting the songs that matter to them. She and her preadolescent sister, Leeann, live together after their mother dies in a car accident. Toddler Tommy also lives with them after Mary Beth receives him as "payment" for a successful song reading session. Her boyfriend, Ben, also lives in their home for a time, until Mary Beth throws him out.

The sisters' relationship is quirky and strong, but they do have one point of departure: Leeann wants to track down their father, whom they haven't seen for five years. Mary Beth is not interested. When they do find him and he moves back into their home, the sisters discover his serious emotional problems.

The sisters, their neighbors and their friends are clearly and sympathetically drawn. Tucker explores and expands the definition of family. As the story progresses, difficulties and disappointments develop in regard to Mary Beth's odd profession and her romantic relationships. The sisters weather these setbacks admirably until one particular song reading seems to go bad.

I wonder if this novel will spur a new field of psychotherapy. How many people will be hanging out their "song reading" shingles? As Lisa Tucker says in a press release: " far as I know, there aren't any other song readers [besides Mary Beth, her character]-Yet. It is a very real thing though, and there's even scientific research to support it. So one of my goals in talking about the book is to inspire people to think about becoming their own song reader: that is, song reading themselves."

This novel should most appeal to women (with or without sisters), those who love and believe in the power of music, and teenage girls. The Song Reader provides a fun and sometimes bittersweet ride. Tucker's second novel, coming from Simon & Schuster in 2004, also centers on music.

© 2003 by Deborah Straw for Curled Up With a Good Book

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