When the summer began, Colby and Bev were best friends, just as they had been since they were 9. Just as Colby thought they always would be.
But this summer, everything changes.
Immediately after their high school graduation, Bev, Colby, and their friends Meg and Alexa pack up Colby's uncle's turquoise VW bus - affectionately named Melinda - and head out on tour. The girls are a band, The Disenchantments; Colby is their driver, roadie, publicist, and number one fan. He's truly happy to support his friends, even though he knows they are terrible musicians.
After the band's summer shows, they will travel to different corners of the world: Meg will head off to college, Alexa will return home for her senior year of high school, and Bev and Colby will visit all the places they've talked about, all the countries they've only seen in books and on computer screens, all the photographs coming to life around them. Bev and Colby have been planning a post-high-school trip through Europe since they were kids.
Except now the trip isn't going to happen, because Bev's decided not to go - and refuses to tell Colby why.
The show must go on, so even after Bev's abrupt announcement, Colby keeps driving. He is fiercely loyal to Bev, even though she's hurt him, and he looks after all of the girls. He makes sure they get to the hotels and the venues they need to get to, even when he wants to just stop and yell and figure out what's going on with Bev, even though he wishes he could rewind their lives to a time when they were little and silly and safe.
But they can't.
So they don't.
And the band played on.
Colby. Bev. Meg. Alexa. Each of these characters will leave a mark on your heart. Though they have very different personalities and styles, when they somehow work wonderfully when put together - just like the playlists they listen to in the van. Readers quickly learn of each band member's likes, dislikes, and hobbies, simply through their actions and interactions with each other. Colby, our first-person narrator, is the perhaps the quietest of the group. Bev is a sculptor; she loves whittling objects and creating miniature scenes, capturing people and places with her carvings and her photographs. Dreamy Alexa, a year younger than the others, is a writer, penning stage plays and filling a notebook with a list of possible future jobs ranging from the fanciful to the mundane. Her older sister, Meg, rocks vintage clothes and dyed pink hair, a sharp contrast to Alexa's flowy skirts and hippie style. I love the fact that the sisters are adopted and raised by two dads, but never make an issue out of any of it. It is what it is, and they are happy, and they are close.
Many books and movies feature characters on the cusp of adulthood, but not enough of them offer a realistic view of what happens after high school.(1) This book does. In The Disenchantments, we have four distinct characters who are about to be pulled in four different directions. We follow them for 300 pages. We spend the summer with them. We never want to let them go - even when we know we have to.
(1) What happens after high school? Some people go to college, some don't. Some stay in their hometown, some move far away; some stay away, while others come back home. Some people stay in touch, some don't. Some friendships fade away while others grow stronger. Even if you're not friends now, it doesn't mean you weren't then. Remember that.
What happens to Colby and Bev - and Meg and Alexa - feels real, and natural, and painful, and incredible, all at once.
Aristotle said that theatre should be "true to life and yet more beautiful." That's exactly what Nina LaCour's books are: true to life, and yet more beautiful. Her debut novel, Hold Still, dealt with a young girl's suicide and the journal she left behind. Both Hold Still and The Disenchantments are gripping and real. LaCour's engrossing novels employ narrators of different ages, genders, and mindsets, yet both explore, in depth, the connections of best friends as the left-behind protagonists consider the definitions and value of loyalty, truth, and memories. LaCour has an incredible way with words, and with characters.
If you're familiar with the concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl - a subject I rather love and could talk about for days - then you'll recognize Bev as one. While some MPDGs are light and giggly, though, Bev struggles with the wildness in her; there's something in her that yearns to be free but can't, rather like a horse that's been trapped in a stable for too long. When she finally tells Colby why she has changed her plans, everything makes sense, and everything changes. Again.
There's so much I could say about this book. I could talk about the music they listen to in the van, the treasured oldies but goodies as well as the beautiful surprises that appear on their summer soundtrack. I could talk about the band's performances and the fact that the girls aren't very adept at playing their instruments. I could talk about how and why this is a coming-of-age story. But I've talked about it so much already and I don't want to give anything more away, so I'll let the book speak for itself now. Here is one of my favorite passages from The Disenchantments:
"It's incredible," she says, "how much damage everyone does to everybody else."
I don't really know where she's going with this, but then she says, "I didn't ever want to break anyone's heart."
I look away from her hands. I focus on keeping my own still.
"I don't ever want to be accountable to anyone for anything again," she says. "I will never make another pact and I will never get married and I will never let anyone think that I am theirs forever."
Don't worry. This passage is not from the end of the book.
This book is a movie.(2) It has a soundtrack. It has a pulse. The characters come alive on the page. Their voices ring out as they talk, argue, sing, and laugh. They have hopes and fears that they share with (or hide from) one another. And the last scene . . . oh, the last scene is just beautiful in the way that all real truths are, even when they are heartbreaking, possibly because they are heartbreaking.
Because every ending is a new beginning, and every heart has its own song.
The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour is on my Best Books of 2012 list.
(2) Need a screenwriter to adapt it? I'm available - but only if Nina herself is not.
For more about the book, visit www.thedisenchantments.com - For more about the author, visit www.ninalacour.com
This review was originally published at Bildungsroman, Little Willow's book blog.