May 30, 2019


Written by Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler
Groundwood Books
159 pp.
Ages 10-14
April 2019

We each have a soundtrack for our lives. It may be seem like a temporary playlist of current favourites or be multiple long-playing albums of the tragedies and joys experienced. Charlie's favourite teacher, her music teacher Mr. K, obviously recognizes this, giving his students an assignment for each to select a song for that moment in their lives. While he introduces them to numerous genres of music, from jazz to reggae, 1980s rap and blue grass, and Charlie contemplates her song, she spends some time crushing on Emile, a nice guy with a passion for entomology, and worrying about Luka, a beautiful boy now absent from school who performed at the winter concert, not caring about the reactions he got.
From Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illus. by Byron Eggenschwiler
But when Mr. K introduces them to opera, Charlie finally discovers her passion. Researching the life of opera singer Maria Callas (1923-1977), she learns how an unloved child used her voice to dream and become someone deemed worthy of affection, regardless of the  detractors who ridiculed some elements of her voice.
From Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illus. by Byron Eggenschwiler
As Charlie selects her song and Luka's and Emile's stories are revealed, the three classmates and Charlie's friend Addie find a way to connect in a meaningful and supportive way, creating the beginnings of a new soundtrack as the Freaks of Feeling.
The show goes on. It always does. And somehow hearts don't stop.
Instead they beat out new rhythms. (pg. 147)
These middle school kids, on the cusp of graduating Grade 8, are trying to figure out who they are and what they want and need. Is it to be the centre of attention or remain comfortably in the background? Is it to be laid back and mellow or loud and brash? Like the music they are trying on for size and comfort, there will be missteps and surprises, quieter moments and deafening junctures. And as Maria Callas herself experienced, there will be critics and fans.
From Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illus. by Byron Eggenschwiler
But, there should be none but admirers for Kyo Maclear and Byron Eggenschwiler's Operatic. It's a full opera in stories and pictures. There are duets and solos and choruses that support the leads. There's the ordinary of parlando and the arias that take the plot to greater heights. And fools and villains, lovers and friends. There is the extraordinary and the ordinary, all reflected in Byron Eggenschwiler's artwork. The mostly black with gold and yellow illustrations may emulate the caution and optimism of a coming of age story, as the blues of Luka's story and the reds of Maria Callas's story focus on the nature of their lives, but the art is hardly ordinary. It is effusive with emotion for the angst of finding one's life songs, whether they be for Charlie, Luka, Emile or Maria Callas, and singing them privately or publicly. Fortunately, Kyo Maclear does not end Operatic on a tragedy or comedic note but one of hope, recognizing that wobbles happen but don't define life. 

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