From a slump to a streak. A few weeks ago, I was mourning my passionate reading days and wondering if I would ever revisit the feeling of not wanting to put a book down. Now, I’m living it. I’ve been finishing some really great books and I just seem to be starting a new one every time I close another. I’ll admit that I am finding myself slightly overwhelmed with the new and upcoming releases that are coming at me, but that is definitely a good problem to have.
The Spectacular by Zoe Whittall
My experience with Zoe Whittall‘s work is minimal. I read The Best Kind of People, which was shortlisted for the Giller Prize in 2016, and I *adored* it. When I heard that she had a new book coming out and that it was partially set in the rock’n’roll world, I put my hand up to read it in advance and provide me review. Thanks to Harper Collins Canada and Netgalley for taking me up on that offer. ❤️
It’s 1997 and Missy’s band has finally hit the big time as they tour across America. At twenty-two years old, Missy gets on stage every night and plays the song about her absent mother that made the band famous. Missy is the only girl in the band and she’s determined to party just as hard as everyone else, loving and leaving someone in every town. But then a forgotten party favour strands her at the border.
Forty-something Carola is just surfacing from a sex scandal at the yoga centre where she has been living, when she sees her daughter, Missy, for the first time in ten years—on the cover of a music magazine.
Ruth is eighty-three and planning her return to the Turkish seaside village where she spent her childhood. But when her granddaughter Missy winds up crashing at her house, she decides it’s time that the strong and stubborn women in her family find a way to understand each other again.
There’s a lot there, but that also only scrapes the surface of the book.
When we meet our two main characters, they are, as mentioned above, young adult and 40-something in the 90s. As mother and daughter, they have totally different experiences of the lives they’ve chosen in that era, but the perspective of the book allows a reader like me a unique experience. I don’t generally feel a lot of nostalgia, but when I read about the music scene in the 90s, there is a part of me that comes alive again. Memories are refreshed and I’m reminded of people I knew, venues I frequented, relationships I had. I knew Missy. And parts of me were like her, too. Simultaneously, reading Carola’s experience of being in her forties at the same time, and as I am now, the self-realization that comes with being her/my age is extremely relatable.
What isn’t included in the synopsis is that a good portion of the book is set in 2013 and later when Missy is now approaching the age her mother was when we were first introduced to her and experiencing some of the same personal growth that Carola did. Like many of us, she is wading through her evolving expectations for her life and trying to balance the person her younger self envisioned she would be with the reality of her feelings and choices.
The Spectacular is a book that thoroughly explores female relationships in family, love, friendship and especially self while also tackling real topics head on. The characters are independent and self-sufficient without any need for a partnership or a love story to shape or define them. Sexuality, reproductive freedom and gender identity are strong themes throughout and Zoe Whittall does not back down from any of these topics. For me, that’s what makes The Spectacular, well, spectacular.
And, also, that cover. 😍
If you read Daisy Jones and the Six, the front half of this book is a tougher and grittier version. And if you loved Fake It So Real by Susan Sanford Blades, then you are going to love this book, too. And vice versa.
I loved this book and I would be so happy to see it on the Giller Prize longlist less than a month from now. I’ve also ordered two of Whittall’s other books so I can finally get caught up on her work.
The Spectacular will be published on August 24th, but you can preorder your copy today.