Hello, friends! It’s my stop on the TBR & Beyond Tours for Heartbreak Symphony by Laekan Zea Kemp and I’m excited to share my review and journal spread with you today!
Thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!
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Goodreads: Heartbreak Symphony
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 05 April 2022
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Clap When You Land meets On the Come Up in this heart-gripping story about navigating first love and overcoming grief through the power of music.
Aarón Medrano has been haunted by the onstage persona of his favorite musician ever since his mother passed away. He seems to know all of Aarón’s deepest fears, like that his brain doesn’t work the way it should and that’s why his brother and father seems to be pushing him away. He thinks his ticket out is a scholarship to the prestigious Acadia School of Music. That is, if he can avoid blowing his audition.
Mia Villanueva has a haunting of her own and it’s the only family heirloom her parents left her: doubt. It’s the reason she can’t overcome her stage fright or believe that her music is worth making. Even though her trumpet teacher tells her she has a gift, she’s not sure if she’ll ever figure out how to use it or if she’s even deserving of it in the first place.
When Aarón and Mia cross paths, Aarón sees a chance to get close to the girl he’s had a crush on for years and to finally feel connected to someone since losing his mother. Mia sees a chance to hold herself accountable by making them both face their fears, and hopefully make their dreams come true. But soon they’ll realize there’s something much scarier than getting up on stage—falling in love with a broken heart.
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Note: The quotes below are taken from an advanced/unfinished copy and are subject to change in the final version.
Let’s take another moment to share some appreciation for this stunning cover! 😍 I love it so much. I feel like covers get more stunning with each year that passes and I’m so here for it!
TL;DR: Heartbreak Symphony was everything and nothing like I imagined it would be. While I was expecting an emotional story about two young adults dealing with grief, finding understanding with each other, and falling in love through the magic of music, the author goes beyond that and crafts a story that covers a wide spectrum of hard-hitting and very timely topics in America’s current discourse. If you’re looking for a romance-heavy story, this might not be for you but I still urge you to read it because it is beautifully crafted, full of heart and emotional depth, and I absolutely loved it!
This is a powerful story about complex family relationships, loss and coping with grief by acknowledging that mental health matters, even when it’s considered weak and unmanly. It’s a story about a community that’s affected by racism and police brutality and devastating immigration policies that tear families apart. It’s a love story about the power of music and how it connects communities and helps heal internal wounds. There is so much to unpack in this book and I can’t even begin to think I can do it justice with my review but I’m gonna try! 😉
I will admit that at the start there was something about the writing that made it tough for me to feel immersed in the story and connect with the characters. But once I reached the 25%(ish) mark, it grabbed me by the throat and took me on a whole rollercoaster of emotions that had me laughing out loud, giggling with glee, gritting my teeth in rage and crying into my pillow at various points. It’s not fast-paced, especially in the first half, but it picks up in the latter half as the momentum of the days leading up to the protest creep closer and the tension in Mia’s and Aarón’s lives grows more taught as they begin to face their doubts and mental health head-on.
Mia and Aarón are beautifully and lovingly crafted characters and you can tell how much heart and care went into shaping them. There’s a lot of pain in them that’s centred on the loss of their parents and their understanding of their identity. Although Mia lost her father years ago and Aarón’s pain is more recent, they’ve struggled to find ways to cope with the overwhelming impact of these losses in their lives. My heart hurt so much for both of them—there were times as I was reading that their pain left me breathless because it was so acutely described! Aarón’s grief in particular was this gut-wrenching thing as he’d talk about the purest love he had for his mother and how much he missed the one person who truly cared for and understood him in his family. I love how the author brings up the toxicity of the machismo culture and the stigma of mental health as “weak and unmanly” through his arc. It’s not shameful to openly grieve, show sad emotions, and ask for help and I’m glad that Aarón did what was best for himself because MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS! I really adored Aarón, the sweetest, purest cinnamon roll and I wanted to scoop him up in a big hug and never let him go. 💜
I can’t help but share the song that I has been playing on a loop in my head ever since I finished reading. It’s a bit on the nose but I think the lyrics fit so perfectly?!
In contrast to Aarón, Mia was full of anger due to loss and abandonment, and confusion and doubt as she tries to figure out where she belongs, whether she deserves to pursue her dreams and what comes next as high school is ending and the rest of her life begins. She had a fantastic support system through her brothers, Andrés and Jazzy, her teacher/mentor, Mr Barrero, and other members of the community. I loved her sibling relationship so much and my heart hurt knowing what all three of them have been through and how they’ve each coped with their loss and abandonment. They’re doing the best they can and they deserve a world of happiness!
When I started this book, I expected the romance to take centre stage and while it is a sub-plot, if I’m being very honest, I didn’t become particularly attached to it. It felt a little ‘insta’ because we don’t actually see them spending that much time together and what they know of each other is gathered from years of orbiting each other in school and the community. It was heartwarming that they found comfort and safety together because of their grief. I loved how they understood each other through the language of music and how they (literally) made beautiful music together. However, the issues about community, family and immigration eclipsed the romance, and deservingly so, but if you’re expecting a romance-centric read, you won’t find it here.
That said, through all of what happens in the story, there is music. Music is not only what brings Mia and Aarón together but it’s also what brings the community together in solidarity during a time when there’s so much violence, fear and uncertainty surrounding them. It’s a universal language that doesn’t need words for people from everywhere to understand and I loved the way it tied everything together.
Laekan Zea Kemp is a writer living in Austin, Texas. Her debut novel, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet was a 2021 Pura Belpré Honor Recipient. In addition to writing she’s also the creator and host of the Author Pep Talks podcast, as well as a contributor to the Las Musas podcast. She has three objectives when it comes to storytelling: to make people laugh, cry, and crave Mexican food. Her work celebrates Chicane grit, resilience, creativity, and joy while exploring themes of identity and mental health.
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