“If Melody hadn’t run out of de-icer that day, she would never have slipped and banged her head. She wouldn’t be left with a condition that makes her sing when she’s nervous. And she definitely wouldn’t have belted out the Arctic Monkeys’ ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ in assembly at her son’s school.
If Dev hadn’t taken the kids to the zoo that day, then the accident wouldn’t have happened. He wouldn’t have left Flynn and Rose without a dad. Or shattered the love of his life’s heart.
But if they hadn’t seen the missing person’s report, they might never take the trip to Cornwall. And, in the last place they expected, discovered what it really means to be ‘Us’.”
I don’t often pick up a book like this one. Often, I will bypass a pretty cover in a shop, thinking, no, not for me. This book is a lesson in, hold on, take a better look; you could be missing out on something quite extraordinary. Now that I’ve read it, I look at the cover and feel differently. There is so much to love about this book that I barely know where to begin….
I’ll start, I think, with the singing. Most of us like to belt out a song in private, and I’d be willing to bet that 95% of us aren’t exactly X-Factor quality. We do it as a release; there must be something almost primal about it, and yet we would no doubt feel pretty ridiculous if a stranger heard us. How do we choose the songs we sing?
For Melody, there is no such privacy. She involuntarily sings wherever and whenever that special song comes into her head. Although this sounds frivolous and hilarious, and occasionally it is written so, there is a deeper context to this condition.
The book is written from four points of view, and this highlights the different ways that this disorder is experienced by the characters. Ah, the characters. Melody, Rose, Flynn and Tom are so well-crafted and relatable. These songs, after all, belong to everyone who ‘us’ comprises, and seeing the story from each of their perspectives is what gifts this clever and poignant story with its heart.
Parenting teenagers is hard, even when life is going well. Rose and Flynn are trying to simultaneously manage their teenage emotions and deal with their mum’s condition, her stress and her heartbreak, as well as handle their own devastation at the disappearance of their father. Melody also has a wonderful sense of humour and each song she spontaneously breaks out into, reflects her mood, no matter how high or low that is. The family dynamics are skilfully handled, painfully realistic and both funny and heart-breaking in equal measure. Difficult themes are sensitively and thoughtfully written.
The Songs of Us broke my heart several times, firstly at the end of Chapter One, and then intermittently throughout, but the ending is just wonderful. The story is both original and uplifting, however you will, in all likelihood, require chocolate and tissues to hand before you sit down to read it.
I gave this book to my mum after I had read it, and she has been raving on about it to her friends too; she loved it so much.
Emma Cooper has such a natural aptitude for writing, it hurts! The Songs of Us is an outstanding novel, and I am really excited to read whatever she writes next.
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Headline Review (20 Sept. 2018)
About the author:
Emma Cooper is a former teaching assistant, who lives in Shropshire, with her partner and four children. Her spare time consists of writing novels, drinking wine and watching box-sets with her partner of twenty-four years, who still makes her smile every day.
Emma has always wanted to be a writer – ever since her childhood, she’s been inventing characters (her favourite being her imaginary friend ‘Boot’) and is thrilled that she now gets to use this imagination to bring to life all of her creations.
The Songs of Us was inspired by Emma’s love of music and her ability to almost always embarrass herself, and her children, in the most mundane of situations. She was so fascinated by the idea of combining the two, that she began to write Melody’s story. Working full-time with a large family meant that Emma had to steal snippets of ‘spare’ time from her already chaotic and disorganised life; the majority of her novel was written during her lunchtime in a tiny school office. She never expected to fall so deeply in love with the King family and is overwhelmed that others feel the same.