Friday, January 6, 2012

Book Review: Second Fiddle by Rosanne Parry

Second Fiddle by Rosanne Parry

This book combines a lot of themes. One is the life of displacement that it is to be a child of a military family--something I was familiar with, although my father was in government service in international finance, rather than the military. But I could relate to the three girls who are the protagonists of the book, all used to a life of moving every few years and losing the friends and connections built up in previous locations. Then there is the call of music--the joy, the striving, the competitions, and the way it can bring people together.

Another familiar strand of the book is the typical adolescent belief that “I’m not as ______ as....” Not as pretty, not as popular, not as rich, not as smart, not as whatever quality we are sure that we lack in middle and high school (and beyond, if we don’t mature). In this case, the narrator, Jody Field, is sure that she isn’t as smart, beautiful, fashionable, confident, or talented as her two best friends, Giselle and Vivian, who are other American daughters of military or diplomatic families stationed in Berlin. But that is OK--she is used to playing second fiddle behind Vivian’s lead and Giselle’s cello.

However, the girls aren’t just living in Berlin--they are living there during the turbulent times of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of East Germany with West Germany. They get caught up trying to save a Soviet soldier who is trying to return to his native Estonia and to pass important information to the West about a toxic weapon the Russians want him to transport.

All these leads to a clandestine trip to Paris, an international music competition, foreign spies, playing music with Spanish gypsies, finding a refuge in a socialist bookstore, and other such adventures. But at the heart, the story is about playing music, being with your friends, and trying to do the right thing. So even though the circumstances are far removed from what most middle schoolers who read this book are familiar with, the underlying messages are ones that almost everyone has experienced in their lives, no matter where that might be.

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