Thursday, August 3, 2017

WITMonth Day 3 | Wonderful Feels Like This by Sara Lövestam

There's a reason I often crave more YA in translation. There's something about fiction that's a little simpler, a little cleaner and clearer and geared towards younger minds, that comes stripped of a lot of the stylistic baggage that bogs down much of the high-brow "literature in translation". Whether a fair assessment or not, translated literature comes with a fairly heavy price-tag for most readers: the perception that the topics are heavy, the style is dense, and the reading experience bleak. Others still associate translated literature with those old classics, dusty and decaying on the shelf.

Wonderful Feels Like This - with its bright yellow cover and bright confetti splashed all over - seems a perfect antidote to readers who don't care for the heavier style. It's also a lovely, if at times awkward little YA novel, part historical fiction and part contemporary coming-of-age. For readers deterred by translation - particularly for younger readers seeking titles that might be a bit more relatable - Wonderful Feels Like This is a pretty nice starting point. Not the greatest contemporary YA you'll read this year, in all likelihood, but not an embarrassing addition to the collection either. A solid, pleasant, and interesting book that carries with it an important message: it's possible for YA to cross borders without anything getting lost.

In Wonderful Feels Like This, author Sara Lövestam (translated from Swedish by Laura A. Wideburg) explores pretty standard YA topics. Main character Steffi is an outcast with a deep love of music, struggling to get by at her small-town school and trying to forge her own path. She is persistently bullied by the girls at her school (and at home, by her older sister), often uncomfortable in her own skin, and isn't really sure about many aspects of her own identity. But Steffi loves music - writing music, listening to music, talking about music.

The book dives into the story immediately - one day on her way home from school, Steffi hears the sounds of her favorite jazz musician playing. This is the novel's "meet-cute", in which Steffi is introduced to the elderly Alvar (at his retirement home), a former jazz musician himself who begins detailing his history and story to the enraptured Steffi.

The stories then progress in an awkward sort of parallel, with Alvar's narration running alongside Steffi's attempts at navigating her fairly awful teenage experience. There are few thematic similarities between the two stories and at times it felt like Alvar's narrative crowded out Steffi's growth, but the stories work reasonably well. Honestly, at times it felt as though the story was actually better suited to the film medium: there's something very cinematic in the way both Steffi and Alvar's stories play out, and I can imagine a rather lovely adaptation.

As Alvar tells Steffi about his love of music and introduction into Stockholm's jazz music scene during World War 2, Steff herself is undergoing a different sort of growth. Rather than the dramatic goings on of the young Alvar, Steffi is dealing with commonplace school problems. She applies to high schools (including a music school in the city), she quietly tracks the desperate - and at times painful - messages her schoolyard nemesis sends her online alter-ego "Hepcat", she attempts to maneuver her family's assumptions that she's gay (which she doesn't really think about quite as much as they seem to), as well as a strained relationship with her older sister. These events occur fairly quickly - blink and you'll miss them - but they have a rather realistic, comfortable vibe to them too. Like I said: movie-like, with things shown and not necessarily fully developed.

I read Wonderful Feels Like This over one morning, pleased and charmed and entertained. It's truly a "feel-good" book, even as it raises difficult themes. It's not especially plot-heavy (focusing more on the characters and Alvar's backstory) and there were moments when I wished the story could have been a bit fuller, I found that I enjoyed the book a great deal. A sweet afternoon sort of read - the sort of book that leaves a pleasant taste in your mind.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments have been disabled due to an increase in spam.