C. G. Drews’ heartbreaking debut novel begins with this line: “What he wants most in the world is to cut off his own hands.” What follows is a well-written, depressingly accurate look at domestic abuse, and how to leave these relationships with courage.
Beck Keverich is a high school student who spends his time playing piano, avoiding his abusive mother, and taking care of his younger sister Joey. His mother, whom he terms the Maestro, forces him to play constantly so he can take her place as a great classical pianist. Beck considers himself a composer, and despises the Chopin that the Maestro shoves on him. After a partnered school assignment sees him become friends with easy-going August Frey, Beck starts to understand just how important breaking away from his mother will be. Beck’s passion for his own music, as well as his unwillingness to see Joey hurt, force his courage up into being.
This novel paints a powerfully distressing portrait of child abuse. The Maestro emotionally, verbally, and physically abuses Beck, especially when he doesn’t play piano perfectly. Though five-year-old Joey seems to escape most of it, Beck notes that she inherited her violent tendencies—at one point biting someone—from their mother. The environment Beck and Joey grow up in is made all-too-real through Drews’ direct style. On Beck practicing piano: “He’ll wake the Maestro – although she’s probably already awake and seething that he started late – and his little sister. He’ll wake the neighbours, who hate him, and he’ll start the local dogs howling.”
C. G. Drews, also known as the blogger Paper Fury, wrote about and reviewed young adult books for years before diving into her own writing. She appreciates well-written banter between siblings, as well as copious descriptions of food. A Thousand Perfect Notes fulfills this desire when August takes Beck out for cake: “It’s like fruitcake but also almonds and also small explosions of chocolate and the occasional chewy date.”
Beck, Joey, and the Maestro make for a complicated trio of characters. Beck shields Joey from the Maestro’s temper by playing well, yet still yearns for her unlikely approval. Though there are mentions of Uncle Jan in Germany, Beck is generally on his own when dealing with his mother. Joey, for her part, is a typical five-year-old, albeit one who calls everyone a moron in German. Her feisty attitude helps define courage for Beck, and gives him hope.
And so it comes to the Maestro. She is a bitter woman, forced to stop playing due to a stroke, and incredibly stubborn. The Maestro’s obsession with a perfect piano prodigy is pitiful in its conviction. Her failed dreams taint Beck’s passion for classical music. Ultimately, what scant redemption the Maestro has is too late in Beck’s eyes.
A Thousand Perfect Notes is a novel of passion, obsession, and dreams. It’s a darker YA contemporary that draws you in to a powerful story of one boy finding the courage to free himself from toxic relationships, and grasp his future.