A Song Only I Can Hear

Barry Jonsberg

A Song Only I Can Hear
Allen & Unwin
27 June 2018

A Song Only I Can Hear

Barry Jonsberg

Winner of the 2019 Indie Book Award for young adult fiction

Good evening, Rob. Your first challenge follows.

These challenges have nothing to do with impressing Destry Camberwick. They are all to do with Rob Fitzgerald impressing Rob Fitzgerald. Bear that in mind at all times.
Challenge 1. You will enter the Milltown’s Got Talent competition. This gives you over a fortnight to polish your act and work out strategies to overcome panic attacks. I would wish you luck but the point of this challenge is that you don’t need it.
Introducing Rob Fitzgerald: thirteen years old and determined to impress the new girl at school, but it’s a difficult task for a super-shy kid who is prone to panic attacks that include vomiting, difficulty breathing and genuine terror that can last all day. An anonymous texter is sending Rob challenges and they might just help. Or not.

Beautifully moving and full of heart and humour, A Song Only I Can Hear is a delightful novel about dreaming big, being brave and marching to the beat of your own drum.


A Song Only I Can Hear opens with thirteen-year-old, would-be writer Rob Fitzgerald researching how people fall in love. Rob’s trying to solve a dilemma: he believes he’s in love with Destry Camberwick, but panic attacks prevent him from making the first move. Soon after, Rob receives well-timed, anonymous texts; they are essentially dares designed to boost his self-confidence. The initial text functions as a stimulus – ‘Do not fear fear. It’s only purpose is to let you know that something is worth doing’ – while the ensuing challenges launch Rob on a madcap adventure of self-discovery.

As Rob’s dormant talents emerge – soccer star, Shakespearian actor, animal-rights activist – he suddenly finds himself on Destry’s radar. What happens next is as powerful as it is unpredictable.

For all its hilarious set pieces, A Song Only I Can Hear is cumulative and surprisingly poignant. Topics raised include love, death, war, environmentalism, and gender identity. In later scenes, abrupt plot manoeuvres and startling revelations add important dimensions to Rob’s character, and cause shifts in emotional register. Rob receives a hard-hitting lesson in love, which finally compels him to voice his truth.

In his award-winning novel My Life as an Alphabet, Barry Jonsberg demonstrated his brilliance in a conceptually singular story about an unconventional girl tackling life’s miscellaneous trials using a peculiar blend of droll honesty and compulsive altruism. In this timely novel, Jonsberg excels once again, delivering the perfect balance of whimsy and insight, performed by a wonderful cast of wise-cracking characters. Rob’s irascible, dry-witted grandad is an especially riotous show-stealer. For ages 10+.

Carrie Croft works as a bookseller at Readings Hawthorn.

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