Wednesday, February 20, 2008

book review: Symphony of Secrets by Sharon Hinck


Title: Symphony of Secrets
Author: Sharon Hinck
Publisher: Bethany House, 2008
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
ISBN: 0764202820

Amy Johnson has finally landed her dream job as a flutist with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. But will she last? Will the orchestra even survive? As one mishap after another threatens to scuttle the orchestra’s season, not to speak of its future, Amy’s sleuthing instincts kick in.

Of course it’s hard to solve a mystery when you’re on call as a cheerleading Mom. Though Clara didn’t warn her that pompoms and bouncy routines were even on the agenda, now that she’s made the squad, what’s a single mom to do? Never mind that the cheerleading community feels as alien to Amy as a drum score and Clara is squandering her own musical talent, maybe this stint will give Amy a chance to prove to Clara that she isn’t a total dud as a mother.

Welcome to Sharon Hinck’s latest mom lit, Symphony of Secrets, an allegro-paced movement in the life of quirky musician Amy, her 15-year-old daughter Clara and the friends and fellow musicians who inhabit their world.

As usual, Hinck’s characters are a treat. The story is told in first person by Amy, whom we quickly come to sympathize with and feel as protective toward as we do our own slightly misfit friends. Clara is believable in her teenage moodiness, the way she morphs into someone her mom hardly recognizes when around her friends, and her overall adolescent enthusiasm, energy and smarts. I also enjoyed the other members of Amy’s orchestra: dour Sarah, joke-cracking Leonard, egotistical Stefan and attractive conductor Peter. As someone who has been a member of several musical ensembles myself, the group dynamic and interactions of the musicians in rehearsals and concerts rang true. Similarly, I could relate to how out of her element Amy felt when she was with the cheerleading moms as they plotted fundraising, sewed costumes, baked for sales and cheered from the stands. Hinck has obviously been there.

In Symphony of Secrets Hinck is, as in earlier books, in fine and funny form. Full of clever comparisons and savvy humor, her writing is always a pleasure to read:

“Clara laughed—music as sweet as the triplets in a Pachelbel toccata…”

“Being one step closer to my dream made my nerves knot up like bad macramé…”

“Tuesday night I followed Clara into the school library and realized I had entered Stepford on steroids…”


Another nice stylistic touch is the hint of things to come given by a musical term and definition at the top of each chapter. For example, heading Chapter 14 is “Dissonance: 1. Inharmonious or harsh sound; discord; cacophony. 2. An unresolved, discordant musical chord or interval.” What follows is, not unexpectedly, another humiliation for the orchestra.

But all the hijinks and cleverness only veil the serious and tender undertones of this tale. For who of us hasn’t wondered if the dream we’ve secretly hung onto all these years will ever come to pass? Is there a parent around who feels that they haven’t blown it more often than not? Hinck makes good use of the story to explore themes of personal fulfillment, parenting and establishing a relationship with God. In this last area, she treads lightly but honestly as Amy continues to question the faith of her friend Lena but at the end seems prepared to test the answers Lena and Clara are giving her.

One of Symphony of Secrets’ cover endorsements says, “It’s official – if the book says Sharon Hinck on the spine, I’m buying it.” I’m beginning to feel the same way. This lively tune of a tale may just win you over as well.

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