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Deb Caletti’s Wild Roses

December 27, 2009

Wild Roses by Deb Caletti
published by Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing August 30, 2005

Cassie Morgan, the smart, funny and edgy 17-year-old narrator of Wild Roses, is adapting to her parents’ divorce. She’s also coping with the fact that he father is still madly in love with her mother and is obsessed with digging up dirt on Mom’s new husband. But that’s not the worst of her problems. She also has to coexist with Dino, the self-centered, mean-spirited and emotionally unstable composer and violinist who is her stepfather.

My stepfather was both crazy and a genius … Supposedly there’s an actual, researched link between extreme creativity and mental illness, and I believe it because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Sure, you have the artists and writers and musicians like my mom, say, who are talented and calm and get things done without much fuss … But then there are the Van Goghs and Hemingways and Mozarts, those who feel a hunger so deep, so far down, that greatness lies there too, nestled somewhere within it. Those who get their inner voice and direction from the cool, mysterious insides of the moon, and not from the earth like the rest of us. In other words, brilliant nuts.

As Dino prepares for the concert that will mark his comeback to the music scene, an event eagerly awaited by his admirers, he turns a corner. He becomes more hostile and increasingly paranoid. Cassie learns that he was on psychiatric medication and stopped taking them while preparing for the concert because it dulled his ability to compose music. As Dino increasingly loses his grip on reality and slips out of control, Cassie and her mother struggle to keep a grip on the situation and hide the truth about him. This is the beginning of an erratic, terrifying journey, and as Cassie will soon learn, Dino is hiding secrets of his own.

In the midst of this maelstrom, Dino takes on a violin student, seventeen-year-old Ian Walters; he is gifted, handsome and gentle. From the moment he rides up on his bicycle, “his violin case sticking out from a compartment on the side, and his long black coat flying out behind him,” Cassie feels a passionate attraction. But dating Dino’s student provokes conflict with her stepfather, causing tension in both families. How could this possibly work?

From the first paragraph, I was pulled in by Deb Caletti’s beautiful writing and by Cassie’s voice, which was intelligent, hilariously funny and heartbreakingly honest. The author painted each scene so vividly that much of the novel felt wholly really. And the frightening story unfolding among Cassie, Ian, Dino, and Cassie’s mom was quite compelling; I found it this novel difficult to put down.

I especially loved Cassie’s character. I connected with her immediately, loving her brains, honesty and snarky wit. And as I sank deeper into the story, I also saw her compassionate side. It broke my heart when she decided not to move out of her mother’s house, to protect herself from Dino, because she cared too much about Mom to let her think she’d failed her daughter. Cassie’s fluctuating reactions, sometimes angry and edgy and sometimes open-hearted and wise beyond her years, made her a fully developed, believable character. And I saw her grow and mature during the story, which gave the novel depth and richness.

The weakest point, for me, was the development of secondary characters. There were many interesting characters in the mix, including Cassie’s best friend Zebe, who is also edgy and funny, Siang Chibo, a budding musician and passionate admirer of Dino, who becomes Cassie’s friend, and Cassie’s father, who is unable to break his emotional bonds to her mother. I never felt I fully knew these characters, and I wanted to. At some points, this dulled the clarity of the story for me a bit. I was especially disappointed in Ian’s brother Bunny and his friend Chuck. At first glance, they were unique, interesting and fun characters, but throughout the story, I found them one dimensional and predictable.

Overall, this is an outstanding Young Adults’ Novel, passionate, funny, and unafraid to tell the truth about serious issues. It also gives readers a narrow glimpse of mental illness, one that is unsentimental but not without compassion. I admire this author’s wit, honesty, and above all, her ability to create an unforgettable seventeen-year-old character. I look forward to reading more of her work.

Where I Got the Book: The library.

Read More Reviews of This Book At:
Once Upon a Book Blog
Book Addiction

The Zen Leaf

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