The Midnights – Review

“Even as time passed, as my fingertips hardened into calluses, as I slipped into those awkward early teenage years, my father’s studio remained the sole place where I felt the most extraordinary, and most alive.”

Susannah Hayes wants to follow in her musician father’s footsteps more than anything. She writes song lyrics in her spare time and spends countless late night hours with her father in his studio. They live and breathe music the way other people breathe air. When the unthinkable happens, and her father dies in a sudden car crash, her world is torn from beneath her.

In a tidal wave of grief, her mother uproots them both and moves to a new city. Leaving behind the house that holds the ghost of her father, Susannah is determined to hold on to him by diving into his past. She follows the stories and memories told to her a thousand times, desperate to find a glimpse of him one more time.

“While my father proudly built his mysteries into an aura, put them on display and let them define him, my mother buried hers like evidence of a crime.”

The one upside to moving is finding Lynn. Susannah quickly realizes that in this new school, she can be anyone she wants, including someone who is best friends with cool-girl Lynn and her friends. Who also happen to be in a band. She clings to the idea that holding onto her father means chasing the dream that would make him proud of her. Music. But the more Susannah tries to be the musician her father would cheer for, and the harder she chases down his past, the more she uncovers secrets meant to stay buried.

Like any good coming of age tale, The Midnights is a profound look at how to find your own voice before you know who you are. Smetana writes teenagers that feel very real. Susannah is lost in her grief. She doesn’t know who she is without her father guiding her. Even harder is when her mother uproots them, making the ground feel as if it’s continually shifting beneath her feet.

“We had really shared something special here, my father and I. But no one else would ever know about it.”

The hardest part for Susannah isn’t that her father is dead. It’s the thing we all face as we grow up. Learning that there are things about our parents that we don’t understand. Complicated facets of their marriage, pieces of their personality hidden from us. Susannah has to face all of that in addition to her grief, and her reaction is to rebel against it all. Which feels very raw and very real.

In addition to discovering things about her parents that are difficult to face, Susannah also has to find herself. She wants to be the musician that would make her father proud. But in chasing his dream, she loses her own. And being far away from her childhood home pulls her farther from the people who ground her. She wants to redefine herself, become a new person shrouded in the same mystery her father built. Except, in doing that, she changes and hides the person she was. The person her father knew.

“No one tells you how to keep living.”

Smetana uses music to weave the world Susannah lives in, where the wind creates melodies and harmony can be found everywhere. The way Smetana chose to illustrate finding her voice in terms of music gives this book an extra dimension that I loved. We all struggle at various points in our lives to figure out how to say what we need, to be who we are. Showing that externally, through music, highlighted that struggle in a clear and beautiful way.

Smetana doesn’t give us an apologetic teenager. There is vivid pain as we read this book. Susannah makes bad choices, and she does and says things she regrets. While she frequently texts her childhood crush, Nick, song lyrics telling him how much she misses him; she blatantly pursues Cameron, among others.

“I knew that I had made horrible accusations; my behavior sickened me, and I was guilt-ridden and sorry, but I didn’t know how to say this to my mother. So instead, I hid from her, tried not to engage in any conversation, and moved forward in the only way I knew how: through distraction.”

This is a book on the more mature spectrum of YA, and has more mature content as a result. There isn’t anything graphic, but there is underage drinking and sex, among other rebellious acts like ditching school, smoking pot, and sneaking out. All of these make sense in the world Susannah lives. Smetana doesn’t exploit these topics, using them cheaply for an edgy character. Instead, because it feels so real, your heart breaks as Susannah goes through these difficult life lessons.

What I really liked about this journey with Susannah, is how lost she gets before she finds herself. This isn’t a story with a neat ending. It isn’t tidy. It’s messy. Being a grieving teenager is messy. Susannah finds the answers she searches for, but like most things in life, they aren’t what she expected them to be. This book is about the journey of self-discovery and finding who you are. And, like in life, this is a never-ending process.

“Maybe it’s less that you find your true self, and more that you feel okay allowing others to see it.”

The writing in this debut is gorgeous. There are stunning sentences that grab your heart and pierce your soul. As a woman who once struggled through my own painful adolescence, this book struck a chord deep within. Smetana perfectly captures the pain that accompany growing up. The way regret can be bitter, and sometimes the things you need the most, are the things right in front of you the entire time.

The Midnights is a beautiful debut, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys more contemporary, mature Young Adult books. You won’t regret it!

Thank you BookSparks for sending me a copy to read and review for your pop up blog tour!

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