May 23, 2013

Allegra

by Shelley Hrdlitschka
Orca Book Publishers
978-1-4598-0197-4
268 pp.
Ages 12+
2013

Allegra is told by Mr. Rocchelli, the teacher whose music theory class she is desperate to drop, that her name comes from allegro which means "lively, with a happy air." (pg. 4) But Allegra is more the serious dance student who has always felt less inclined to join in those lively groupings and fun activities that many children enjoy.

Seventeen-year-old Allegra Whitford, daughter of two very accomplished musicians (Mom is the Deer Lake Symphony Orchestra's harpist and Dad is the bass player of the Celtic-rock group, Loose Ends), is entering her first year at the Deer Lake School for the Fine and Performing Arts.  Already accomplished herself, in completing all levels in the National Music Academy, she is only interested in pursuing dance classes.  But the school, and Mr. Rocchelli, insist that she get a balanced arts curriculum, so she is stuck taking his music theory class. However, after she takes the final exam early and aces it, Mr. Rocchelli gives her a special project: to expand a simple melody into a conductor's score and written for every instrument in the orchestra.

Allegra is especially eager to delve into this project with her father who has just returned from another tour. But her parents' relationship seems rather awkward since he's come home.  Her mother seems more "prickly" and insists on continuing to get rides from another musician, Marcus, who drives a little red sports car.  Dad looks tired and is thinking of one last tour, realizing the impact his touring has had on the family.  Though they have a great time when Allegra invites new friends Spencer and Talia and a couple of others over for chili and to sit in on a Loose Ends rehearsal, Allegra begins to wonder about the steadfastness of everyone's relationships. 

When Mom asks Dad to move out, Allegra is embarrassed to tell Spencer and Talia, and finds herself immersing herself in her music project and putting her dance on hold.  Spencer is showing interest, even kissing her but, after a fiasco of a sleepover at Talia's, he tells Allegra that, "You put up a wall and don't let anyone in." (pg. 130) Returning to dance while working even harder on her music composition, Allegra finds herself becoming more distracted by Mr. Rocchelli, especially after he begins to collaborate with her on the music, scheduling late night sessions and even asking her to call him Noel.  Though Mr. Rocchelli makes no advances towards her, Allegra is thrilled with the attention he gives her, convinced that they are in love.

Though I don't take any joy in Allegra's discomfort in social settings, it's refreshing for readers to recognize that not everyone aspires to popularity at all costs.  However, Allegra's awkwardness in social situations has kept her shielded from sharing herself with others and from gaining the support that friendships can provide.  Without the balance of others' views or input, Allegra's thoughts only feed themselves, both negatively and positively.  While convincing herself that Spencer and the others are only interested in her because of her father - definitely a negative perspective - she also convinces herself that Mr. Rocchelli feels the same excitement about her as she does when with him.  In the end, she does a disservice to everyone while never intending on doing anything but excelling at her craft.

Shelley Hrdlitschka could have made Mr. Rocchelli the "bad guy" by having him lead Allegra on but she charitably creates no good guys and bad guys, just characters who are human, trying to do the best they can.  Their way of doing things, including their reactions and interpretations, may be right or they may be wrong, but they don't seem to have any hidden agendas.  Allegra herself recognizes that she "should" be lively, or that she would at least benefit from being more extroverted, but it's not always possible to be what others want of us, no matter how beneficial.  But, like her parents, her friends, Mr. Rocchelli and others, Allegra takes what she's been given and works with it.  Sometimes it's flat but sometimes it's a superb orchestral piece with layers of harmonies and melodies that inspire and elevate.

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