Description from Goodreads:
The last place fifteen-year-old Willow wants to spend her summer is on a run-down former coffee barge in a boatyard in Rockaway, New York. But that’s where her aunt is converting the broken down hulk into a floating concert hall and Willow has no choice but to help; her unstable mom has kicked her out for the summer. Willow’s miserable when she sees that there isn’t even a shower on the barge, and she has to deal with Craig, the leering hunk of a construction worker working with her aunt. The only bright spot is Axel, an older teenage boy living alone on a neighboring sailboat. Introverted and mysterious, he has the soul of a poet, a deep, philosophical mind, and loves Shakespeare. He’s also scarred by a painful, disturbing past, and the two bond through their shared pain and laughter. But when devastating events threaten to destroy them, Willow and Axel struggle to save each other–and themselves–before it’s too late.
Selene Castrovilla’s main character, Willow, is a damaged 15-year-old who confronts her past in Saved By the Music. I liked Willow a lot, and my heart broke for the pain she has gone through in her life. As I got to know her, I was so happy that she had found a place for the summer that removed her from her mother’s house, where she could be a teenager. I also really liked Axel, although I never quite could picture him as a Jim Morrison look-a-like as the author describes him. He was deep and caring, and so tender and patient with Willow. Axel is also damaged, and I love the way the two characters help each other and relate to each other. The harbor, Willow’s aunt’s barge, and Axel’s boat are also characters in the novel; Castrovilla has written such a strong sense of place with these locations. While I read much of this novel on a chilly November night, I easily found myself in the summary harbor at Far Rockaway. I had mixed feelings about Aunt Agatha: her constant use of “dear heart” was grating, but I loved everything else about her, and how she grows, too.
The book moves along at a quick pace. I noticed I was on page 66, and all of a sudden found myself at page 190 without knowing where the time had gone or how I’d read that far. Once the action gets going, I was anxious to know how things would proceed, how the work on the barge was going, and to learn more about what happened to both Willow and Axel in the past.
There are two things I didn’t like about this novel. The first is the cover – it looks like it was published in the 1980s. I worry that teens won’t look twice at it, with the font that resembles a neon sign, the coloring and the basic shapes representing the skyline and boat. It is a dated cover.
The second thing is that I felt the author went a bit over the top with the issues. SEMI SPOILER ALERT: She has parental abandonment, sexual abuse and assault, self-esteem issues that manifests through promiscuity, alcohol abuse, cutting, and an eating disorder, and depression. It is a lot to handle, and I bought into all of it except the eating disorder. It is not a major part of the storyline, and maybe that is part of my problem. I think it was unnecessary, and while I could see how the author built the case for its existence, I just think it didn’t further the plot the way everything else did.
Other than those things, I enjoyed the book. It is a realistic novel, and I think a lot of teen readers will be drawn to the idea of spending summer on a barge in New York (although they would wish for a shower on their barge!), and find Willow relatable and Axel tragically romantic with his musical abilities, love of Shakespeare, and damage.
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