A Song Only I Can Hear reviewed by Tara

You don’t love someone for their looks, their clothes or their fancy car, but because the sing a song only you can hear. Oscar Wilde

Rob Fitzgerald is curious about love. Ever since Destry Camberwick walked into the classroom during Maths, Rob has been smitten. Rob’s friend, Andrew, agrees to get close to Destry and do some reconnaissance.

Whilst trying to figure out the best way to win Destry’s heart, Rob is also trying to ignore the school bully Daniel, who persistently attempts to incite Rob to fight him. Rob isn’t known for bravery, and regularly experiences panic attacks, fear of speaking, and fear of public toilets or change rooms.

Rob’s grandfather is a significant figure in Rob’s life. Pop is a war veteran who lives in a serviced apartment in a facility for retirees. He teaches Rob to play chess and influences Rob’s decision to be vegetarian and fight for animal rights. Rob is determined to see what is behind Pop’s tough demeanour and learn more about him.

Amidst all this Rob begins to receive anonymous texts with mysterious challenges that claim to help Rob with the most important task of impressing Rob Fitzgerald and being proud of who you are. Rob must decide whether to accept the challenges, whilst trying to figure out who is sending the challenging texts.

A Song Only I Can Hear is written as if the protagonist is writing an autobiography. The chapters are short. Usually a thread of storyline takes several chapters, but the threads are interspersed. This is probably because some of the threads are heavy subject matter, such as Rob’s grandfather’s account of being in the war and the experience of returning from war with memories which never disappear. Interspersing the heavy threads with light-hearted or humous events breaks the tension, but also makes the threads more difficult to follow.

Some of the central themes include war veterans, intergenerational family relationships, love and friendship, grief and loss, the experience of being transgender, self-acceptance and self-identity. Although the storylines are at times difficult to follow, A Song Only I Can Hear is an interesting book with a few surprise twists at the end.

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