Author: C.G. Drews
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Warnings: Domestic Abuse
A Thousand Perfect Notes was one of those debut novels that Book Twitter was hopping about. I tried to put off reading it in the interest of my already-neglected TBR pile, but I kept seeing review after review praising this book. I finally broke down, bumped it to the top of my pile, and devoured it in exactly one week. It did not disappoint the hype.
A Thousand Perfect Notes (ATPN) follows Beethoven “Beck” Keverich, a boy with music in his soul who’s forced by his fallen-from-glory pianist mother to play only the songs she approves. Play them perfect. Play them until he hates himself. Play them until he bleeds.
Emotionally scarred, full of self-loathing and desperately protective of his sister, Joey, Beck subjects himself to the Maestro’s wishes. Any failure to perform perfectly results in verbal, emotional, and often physical abuse at the Maestro’s stroke-shaken hands. But everything changes for Beck after he’s assigned a school project with August Frey, who gives him a glimpse of what it means to live, not just survive. When Beck begins to hope for a better future, the Maestro’s obsession knocks him down at every turn. Ultimately Beck must choose whether to stand up for himself, for Joey, and for the life they deserve, or succumb to the Maestro’s obsession – even if it kills the music inside him.
I would hesitate to call Beck a relatable character to me because unless you’re raised in an abusive household, I don’t think it’s possible to truly relate to the tangle of emotions he goes through. What I will say is this: Drews does an incredible job striking that complex and painful balance in the mindset of an abused teen. Beck sways between hating the Maestro and being desperate for her approval. He plays out of fear of her, but also to please her. It’s very clear that more than music and blood binds them – he longs for a “good job” from her, and any inkling of praise on her part reels him back from flirts of rebellion and straight to her wishes again. The Maestro gaslights and manipulates Beck in horrific ways, sometimes subtly and sometimes not. Despite the sways between anger and desperation, however, Beck’s growth arc is clear throughout the story, and it’s a wonderful interplay between his own individual strength and those who inspire him to save himself.
Joey, Beck’s five-year-old sister, is another great portrayal of a child growing up in abuse. Joey loves Beck to pieces, but frequently calls him names or parrots judgements about him that she hears from the Maestro. She is giddy and adorable but also reflects the things she sees at home in violent outbursts at school. Like Beck, Joey feels real – whether she’s making you grab your cheeks and AWWWW, or making you uncomfortable and sad.
August Frey, Beck’s first real friend, sometimes felt a little too good to be true, and a little less real than Beck and Joey. But this sunshiney image of her is told through Beck’s point of view, so it makes sense in context – she’s not entirely real to him, after the darkness of his life. While there were a few times August’s personality grated on me, I truly loved her concern for the Keverich kids, her nine+ dogs, and her entire presence in the last chapter…oh my word. I was a crying mess.
The Maestro is a complex antagonist. Nothing in her tragic backstory excuses her mistreatment of her children, but Drews took care to build a believable character whose goals and behavior, while reprehensible, do not exist in a vacuum. Toward the end, it’s clear that due to her own upbringing and the cruel hand of fate, the Maestro is what Beck could become if his future is not altered. This makes us root for Beck all the more.
The plot of ATPN is in some ways secondary to the character interactions, but you’ll find yourself right from the get-go hoping for Beck and Joey to escape the Maetro’s temper. Each plot point is delivered with skill and consideration, upping the stakes as Beck struggles to fight for himself before the Maestro can make a decision for him that will change the course of his entire future – and separate him from the people he cares about.
If you follow Drews (@PaperFury) on Twitter, the style of ATPN’s prose will not surprise you. It has a very modern feel, and despite the gravity of the subject matter, the prose itself makes the book an “easy” read. There were a few times where the stylistic approach to formatting was a bit jarring, but in other places (especially the last line of the book) it worked very, very well. I would caution readers to approach the prose and style with an open mind. They’re different from what might be considered standard, but they’re well-executed nonetheless.
A Thousand Perfect Notes is an incredible debut novel. Drews doesn’t pull any punches, taking great risks in the subject material of domestic abuse and the power of learning to stand up for, and save, one’s self and what’s most important. These risks prove worthwhile, creating a heartfelt, pulse-pounding, gut-wrenching story of obsession, hope, and the transformative power of love and belief in others and yourself.