Hanging out with Chris was supposed to make Lorelei’s life normal. He’s cooler, he’s older, and he’s in a band, which means he can teach her about the music that was forbidden in her house growing up. Her grandmother told her when she was little that she was never allowed to sing, but listening to someone else do it is probably harmless—right?
The more she listens, though, the more keenly she can feel her own voice locked up in her throat, and how she longs to use it. And as she starts exploring the power her grandmother never wanted her to discover, influencing Chris and everyone around her, the foundations of Lorelei’s life start to crumble. There’s a reason the women in her family never want to talk about what their voices can do.
And a reason Lorelei can’t seem to stop herself from singing anyway.
"Zan Romanoff’s music-saturated debut will snare readers with its melodic, pop-punk hooks and elegant riffs on growing up, falling in love, and letting go." —Sarah McCarry, author of All Our Pretty Songs
"Family secrets, first love, and the elemental, raw power of music are all on display in Zan Romanoff's gorgeous novel. A Song To Take the World Apart gives us a heroine who's as fierce as she is vulnerable, and a story that's as page-turning as it is profound. An enchanting and beautiful debut." Edan Lepucki, New York Times bestselling author of California
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Lorelei and Zoe lie about going to the see the band.
It is, as usual, Zoe’s idea. She’s the one who pulls a flyer down on her way to geometry, and slips it to Lorelei as she walks up the aisle to her seat. When Lorelei unfolds it, she recognizes it right away: she’s been seeing the posters and ignoring them for weeks.
This one is printed on salmon-colored copy paper. On it, two figures lean against one another in silhouette. Their heads are thrown back and their guitars are raised ecstatically. They’re surrounded by lazy hand-drawn doodles of stars and spirals and peace signs and pot leaves. THE TROUBLE at the ROXY, it says. Zoe has scrawled across the back: We’re totally going. And I will make you talk to him!!
Zoe’s parents are less strict than Lorelei’s, but they’re unpredictable, and the girls have never done anything like this before. Lying will make everything easier, Zoe says. They’ll say they’re going to a movie. Her mom will drop them off. They’ll walk to the Roxy, and back again when it’s over. No one will ever have to know.
Anxiety tugs at Lorelei on the drive over, up until they get out of the car and Mrs. Soroush drives away, turning a corner and falling out of sight. It’s only as she and Zoe start walking toward the venue that her worry blossoms into something sweet-centered and sharp-edged with thrill.
Los Angeles is too big to navigate all together; instead, Lorelei has learned it as a network of neighborhoods, like stepping-stones that lead from one to the next. They started out miles west of here, in Venice, where the air is heavy with ocean water and everything is crusted in a fine layer of salt. Mrs. Soroush took the 405 to the 10 and then La Cienega north for miles, all of it flashing by too fast and black to see. Now Sunset Boulevard is wide and grungy, illuminated mostly by neon signs and white marquee lights. Lorelei likes how strange it is: dark and then shining, like a mouth full of unfamiliar, gleaming teeth.
It’s a hot September and the air smells like diesel and exhaust, mineral and dry.
The bigness of the night makes her skin feel small, so Lorelei tries to take up space. She stands up straight and throws her shoulders back. Even her clothes are asking her to play a part tonight, her floral print baby-doll dress soft as it moves against the tops of her thighs. Her hair is loose and long against her neck and shoulders, a shifting cascade of honey blond. Zoe let her borrow a beat-up leather jacket, which makes her feel tough, and safe.
The pair of enormous, sour-faced bouncers at the entrance to the venue cross the backs of the girls’ hands with thick black X ’s to mark that they aren’t even trying to pretend they’re twenty-one, and they get drink tickets in exchange for a ten-dollar cover. The first thing they do when they get inside is sneak into the bathroom to scrub off the X ’s and put on their faces.
Zoe holds Lorelei’s chin and pencils a thick, confident line at the arced rim of her eyelid. Then she turns Lorelei’s head to admire the effect. “You’re going to look so tough,” she breathes. Lorelei widens her eyes and rolls them upward, letting Zoe work on her lower lashes. “He’ll never recognize you like this.”
“Isn’t that a bad thing?” Lorelei asks. She licks her lips and tastes the thick wax of Crimson Glow lipstick. “I mean, if he only likes how I look tonight.”
It’s not like she’s ever really talked to Chris, a senior, and lead singer of The Trouble. She’s a sophomore. That he remembers her--and wants to see her again--is too much to hope for. She loves Zoe’s optimism, but that doesn’t mean she trusts it.
“Not necessarily.” Zoe has an older sister, which means a closetful of hand-me-downs that smell faintly of clove cigarettes, a working knowledge of the last ten years in pop music, and this particular brand of mysterious wisdom. -Lorelei’s older brothers have never given her much more than chin-jerk nods when she passes them in the hallways at school.
“Tonight’s the night he sees you, you know, that he realizes who you really are. Then when you run into each other at school, and you’re all shy and stuff, you’ll seem extra mysterious. Like, Who’s that girl with the secret life? What kind of cool shit does she do on weekends that I don’t know about?”
“I don’t do anything on weekends,” Lorelei says. She kicks a Converse against the bathroom wall. “Unless -hanging out with Oma counts as mysterious.” Mentioning her grandmother seems like a bad omen, like it might conjure her, somehow.
“He doesn’t have to know that,” Zoe reminds her. She turns away to put on lipstick, a hot-pink shade that brings out the yellow undertones of her olive skin. It looks weird on purpose, cool and easy and knowing. Lorelei regards her own baby face in the mirror, focusing on the round curves of her cheeks. The makeup makes her features stand out cartoonishly. She looks like she’s just a little girl playing dress-up. She wraps one arm around Zoe’s waist and leans her head onto her bony shoulder.
Zoe smells like rose oil and Secret baby powder deodorant. Her warm skin is almost masked, but not quite.
“Look at us,” Zoe says with triumphant satisfaction, butting her chin against the top of Lorelei’s head. “We look, like, at least eighteen.”
Lorelei first tripped over Chris in the hallway at school. It was the second week of the semester, and she was getting lost trying to find a class. The halls were especially crowded those first weeks because of the wildfires raging around the city, which made strange, dark clouds of smoke and ash, and turned the whole sky orange.
No one wanted to be out under it, so instead of sprawling across campus, almost the entire student body was crammed inside with the windows shut. The closeness of the air and the echoes of high-pitched chatter were driving Lorelei insane.
She was so intent on shouldering her way through the crowd that she didn’t realize what had happened at first: all she understood was space reorienting, forward becoming down. She fell before she knew she was falling. Her hands shot out instinctively to catch her weight.
It was over before she could name it, and it took her a minute to reassemble herself: palms against the linoleum, a spreading ache in her knees and elbows. The boy she’d stumbled over came to her last: Chris Paulson, though she wouldn’t know his name until Zoe found it out for her.
At first all she could see of him was the crown of his curly head. He had a guitar in his lap, and he’d bent forward to protect it from her fall. As he unfolded, she saw his face, and registered that he was handsome, and older. The summer’s surf tan was still brown on his wrists and forearms.
Lorelei had never been so close to a boy who wasn’t one of her brothers before. She was consumed by the details. His T-shirt looked like it had been bigger on him when he bought it: now it strained across his shoulders, and the sleeves rode up to show a slim strip of pale, untouched skin. She watched that tender half-moon move as he reached out to put a hand on her shoulder.
“Sorry about that,” he said. “I should have been paying attention. You okay?”
“Yeah,” she said. Her voice was thick in her throat. “Fine.” Standing up seemed like it might be a challenge. She folded her legs carefully so that she was sitting, facing him, like she’d meant to end up there all along.
“Cool.” He leaned back, and shifted and resettled the guitar in his lap. His right arm slid lower, fingers -strumming idly at the strings. The sound they made was warm and sweet and unexpected, just a ripple of notes. It was the only nice thing Lorelei had heard all day, and it felt like someone stroking down her spine, making her bones go liquid. Her eyes closed without her permission.
“That’s nice,” she said without meaning to.
“Yeah,” Chris said. “I know, right. I shouldn’t just, like, sit here, but sometimes it feels like it’s the only way to get through the day.” He gave her a sliver of a smile and ducked his head again, picking out something deliberate, a melody that hung together with its own gravity.
The tune made everything else around her turn down to a bearable level. It was like he had found a hook-and-eye fastening somewhere on her and tugged just right, undoing her all at once: the sound was golden in her ears and warm on her skin, and she drifted toward the pull of the notes.
“What is that?” she asked. “Is it, like--”
“You really don’t recognize it?” The crowd around them was thinning as passing period ended, but Lorelei couldn’t make herself move. “My god, what are they teaching you children these days?”
Lorelei flushed, and knew it only made her look younger.
“Dave Grohl was in Nirvana,” Chris went on. “So I would think his--” He caught the blankness on her face and shook his head at her, smiling. “Jesus, girl.”
He laid the guitar on the ground next to him. Lorelei liked to watch him do it: he was careful, and sure. He handled it like it was a holy object, but one he knew well and had gotten used to being in charge of. “You’ve got a lot of listening to do,” he said.
Chris got up and dusted himself off and she did the same, trying to keep anything in her mind long enough to stick. She couldn’t, though: her ears buzzed with the absence of music, and her fingers twitched toward the guitar. Even lying there quietly it was full of the promise of sound, its curved body and hollow belly waiting for a single finger to tug a string so it could hum a song. Lorelei didn’t know whether she liked the boy or the guitar more. They both disappeared down the hallway before she could say anything else.
In class she couldn’t stop thinking about him. Boys had wanted her attention before, once or twice, and they’d gone about getting it clumsily, sometimes angry when she didn’t jump at their advances, and especially when she didn’t feel the same way. She wasn’t sure whether that was her fault or not, not knowing how to respond to something she’d never asked for in the first place. She liked the quiet contrast of Chris, the way he settled down in the hallway and made himself space. She thought all through the period about his hands on the guitar, steady. The images came to her, unbidden, of those same hands on her skin instead, notes rippling up out of her own throat.
She didn’t recognize the gentle lick of warmth in her belly as want. She only knew that it was unfamiliar, the way the sensation lit her up. That was the day she discovered why they call it longing: because desire is full of distance and unfilled space. She felt like the empty center of the guitar, waiting for someone to pluck a string and fill her up with sound.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The temptation was just too great. No one explained the reasoning behind their no, it was just a hard no and that wasn’t enough for Lorelei. The urge inside her was just too great and she thought if she just did it once, perhaps once would be enough. I was intrigued as to why Lorelei grew up in a household without any music or hardly any talking. Her grandmother Oma told Lorelei if she were ever to sing, she must never sing the high notes. Lorelei was told to always sing in low notes and always sing by herself. Lorelei was also informed that singing got her mother in trouble but that was as far as that conversation went. Sneaking out to a concert with her bestie Zoe, Lorelei meets Chris and singing becomes an important topic, a topic that she can’t discuss with anyone at the moment. Frustrated and confused, Lorelei begins to research her family’s history hoping to uncover answers about her past. She believes that if she can uncover the reasons why her family outlawed singing, perhaps she can resolve the issue and singing can become a part of her life. I felt that the first half of this novel was a bit drawn out for me. Too much story building for me and not enough of Lorelei’s mystery for me. The excitement and the dramatics of the novel don’t occur till the second half of the novel and then I really enjoyed what the author provided. Lorelei had a craving, a desire but she didn’t understand why or where it was coming from. No one was talking so she had to take matters into her own hands. She was a risk taker, she was responsible and she was brave. As the story gains momentum, I learned about her past, and how her future would be shaped unless she learned to control herself. I liked how she waived between doing what is right and being deceptive, how can you blame her, when you are walking around with such power? I was angry with the other characters in the novel when they pestering her to sing, “Sing Lorelei, sing!” I just wanted to reach inside the novel and smack them, every single one of them! It’s funny how emotional I got during this time in the novel, my head all frustrated as they riled her. 3.5 stars I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley and Random House Children’s in exchange for an honest review.