A Song Only I Can Hear by Barry Jonsberg

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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A Song Only I Can Hear

A Song Only I Can Hear

Barry Jonsberg

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