Published by Hodder Children’s Books.
Review by Elizabeth Gibson.
From Westlife and Take That to The Vamps and One Direction, boybands will be a familiar part of life for most millennials. Even though I am personally more interested in folk and indie music than pop, the phenomenon of boybands and how they are so deeply adored does fascinate me. I was looking forward to finding out what Chris Russell had to say on the subject in Songs About Us.
The sequel to Songs About a Girl, Songs About Us centres on Charlie Bloom, a gifted teen photographer who is asked to take backstage photos for the popular fictional boyband Fire&Lights. Charlie finds herself the object of two members’ affections, and is faced with the decision of whether to stick with misunderstood Gabe or take a chance on gentle Olly. If that all sounds cheesy and fan-fiction-esque, it is. However, fortunately there is much more to this novel than the romance, and it is the other layers of plot that make Songs About Us a success.
Firstly, there is an emphasis on family, and how complicated it can be. Charlie’s flawed relationships with her father and grandmother are dealt with realistically and sensitively. Desperate to learn more about her late mother, Charlie does some detective work and ultimately unearths an amazing secret but also some darker revelations. This mystery aspect to the novel is what really appealed to me and kept me turning the pages; I was significantly more invested in the truth about Charlie’s mum than in whether Charlie would end up with Olly or Gabe.
A second vital element to the novel is friendship. Charlie’s best friend Melissa is a brilliant character – intelligent and proud of it, a bit wacky and very loyal. I love her interactions with Charlie and the glimpses of their everyday life away from the spotlight. There are also the FireLighters, a mysterious pair of possible new friends who I initially found slightly tedious. However, as the story progresses, their role increases and their personalities develop.
Charlie’s friendships with the two band members she has no romantic involvement with – Yuki and Aiden – are also lovely to read about. As someone from outside the world of fame, Charlie can often tell when something is wrong with the boys, where those around them cannot. Yuki’s issues in particular probably affect many young people who become famous very quickly, and it is good to see them discussed. Aiden’s realisation about himself is something that a lot of readers will relate to, and isn’t seen nearly enough in YA literature.
I picked up Songs About Us unsure of what to expect. What I got was a great book that I honestly had trouble putting down. The Charlie-Gabe-Olly triangle is corny and unrealistic, and had the novel been purely about that I would have been bored. Luckily, the family history angle, the friendships, the characters of Yuki and Aiden, and Charlie’s passion for photography and her determination to be the best she can be all made for a thrilling read.