In this funny, poignant first novel, Sammy and his outsider buddies (including a best friend who may want to transition to girlfriend) emerge as distinct, believable characters; more surprising for a work of teen fiction, the adults are fully realized, too…Jon Skovron perfectly captures that passionsometimes fierce, sometimes shythat drives so many young artists to take the raw stuff of life and "transform it into something beautiful."
The Washington Post
This first novel about a boy who loves music can be heavy-handed, but it hits enough high notes to be a crowd-pleaser. Sammy is trying to keep his band, Tragedy of Wisdom, together, but with a bullying singer and a spacey bassist, it seems destined to end in disaster. Of course, Sammy’s got his own problems, from his grandfather’s deteriorating health to a good friend who is hoping to escalate their relationship. After a bad open mike night, Sammy is convinced he “can’t sing in front of other people.” The characters are a bit extreme, such as Joe, the band’s rage-ridden frontman from the projects who writes a song about the “sanity closet.” Readers will easily predict the trajectory of Sammy’s story, but even so, this angsty protagonist is an easy character to like, and readers will relate to his struggle with the fact that “[t]hings happened that you couldn’t control.” The use of music throughout, as well as descriptions of what it’s like to play and perform, add flourish to this coming-of-age story. Ages 14–up. (Nov.)
Skovron presents a musical bildungsroman set in Columbus, Ohio. Seventeen-year-old guitarist Sammy Bojar identifies most with his elderly grandfather who used to be a great jazz pianist. Sammy's band, The Tragedy of Wisdom, wants to enter a Battle of the Bands, but Sammy fears they lack the winning je ne sais quoi. The lead singer Joe abuses the other band members, the bass guitarist forgets his chords, and Sammy wonders if it will all hold together. As Sammy's band writhes with growing pains, Sammy pursues a relationship with longtime friend Jen5 and questions the depth of his own passion for music as a career. His grandfather's growing dementia and a disastrous music performance clarify Sammy's musical musings into a solid, if predictable conclusion. Although not startlingly original, Skovron's story will speak to teens with its credible, clear voice. Sammy is the epitome of a likeable narrator. His attempts to relate to his family, his new girlfriend Jen5, and his band members will connect him with readers from the first chapter. The plot is mostly predictable, but the well-realized setting and characters improve an oft-used plot line. Frank discussions of sexuality and an implied sex scene target this title to high school readers. For those who eat, drink, and sleep music or for those looking for a male protagonist with miles of heart, this novel will suit well. Pair up with Fat Kid Rules the World (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2003/VOYA June 2003) for another appealing look at the teen music scene. Reviewer: Caitlin Augusta
For Sammy Bojar, it's not about fame; it's about the music. He doesn't want to front a band that makes it big. He just wants to be part of a band that makes great music. But making great music while kicking off a more-than-friends relationship with his longtime best friend Jennifer, worrying about his grandfather's deteriorating sanity, and trying to keep his other friendships intact can get complicated. I can't imagine a title that better describes both the music at the heart of this novel as well as what it is to be a vulnerable, hopeful, and talented young musician than Struts and Frets. Jon Skovron's debut is, at turns, funny, sad, inspirational, and honest. And woven throughout is the musicdriving Sammy and driving the story. Reviewer: Nate Phillips
Gr 9 Up—Music is the center of Sammy Bojar's world, despite his therapist mother's urging that he pursue a more profitable career and stable lifestyle. Though he is now sinking into dementia, Sammy's grandfather, a jazz musician, is still able to encourage his grandson to follow his dream: "You're like me…. Always reaching for the moon." When Sammy's band decides to enter a competition that could result in a chance to record in a real studio, he fluctuates between his extravagant dreams of rock-star fame and his nagging fear that the group is far from ready to perform. Meanwhile, he struggles with the realization that a longtime friend wants to be his girlfriend. When it becomes clear that their romance is about to become more physical, Jen5 responsibly blurts out a reminder not to "forget to…uh…go to the drugstore before you come over." The resulting hilarious scene in which Sammy is utterly baffled by the vast variety of condoms on display is just one of the narrative's many entertaining depictions of the turmoil of growing up. A playlist identifies the songs mentioned in the text, while a classroom scene in which Sammy's teacher reads aloud from Macbeth makes the origin of the book's title clear. This debut novel will find an audience not just with music fans, but also with those who appreciate a good coming-of-age story.—Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA
Though rehearsals haven't been smooth for Sammy Bojar's band, Tragedy of Wisdom, it appears to be his shot at becoming a legitimate musician. There's more drama than music in his life though: His grandfather suffers from increasing dementia, and Sammy has just started dating his best friend, Jen. As the band competition approaches, he finally starts changing the tempo of his life. Good character development and solid pacing keep readers involved with the narrative, which sometimes attempts to cover too much. Secondary adult characters receive more attention than Sammy's bandmates, leaving those supporting-character teens to languish somewhat. Skovron's musical influences fit nicely with the older indie teen reader, but these details will somewhat date the text. Sammy and Jen's romance nicely reflects a transitional relationship, and the author doesn't hide any of the difficulties involved in changing from friendship to dating. Deftly executed, this debut novel hits a few high notes and handily avoids falling flat. (Fiction. YA)