Set in Detroit in 1960, FourEver Friends is an engrossing story for those readers interested in music and the violin. Written in first person from the point of view of the protagonist, Jessica, the story spans three years as she is admitted into a competitive, prestigious high school at the age of fourteen and later graduates at seventeen.
When the story begins, Jessica lives with her Jewish, conservative family. Though she has a nice, caring home, she’s not too open at communicating with her mother and father. She is encouraged to play the violin, but her father always reminds her to see herself and her future as a concert violinist and never as a soloist. But, from the beginning, Jessica questions the adults around her. She’s ambitious and has her own mind. Why should her father decide whether or not she should become a soloist? He’s also controlling in other ways, especially with boys, and when Jessica begins to date a German boy, more tension arises.
But for Jessica, studying music and practicing the violin come first, so it’s no surprise when she gets a full scholarship at a very competitive, prestigious high school. There, she learns how tough it is to stay on top surrounded by talented, hard-working students. She must prove herself and this isn’t easy. The stress pulls her into the vortex of anorexia, among other things. Fortunately, she has her best friends to support her.
The novel takes the reader through all the ups and downs a violin student goes through in order to excell. Jealous friends, insensitive teachers, and lack of a proper social life are just some of the things she endures. Is Jessica strong enough to survive all obstacles, or will she give up?
FourEver Friends is partly a story about friendship but although the book cover shows four friends, I feel the story is more about two friends: Jessica and Marg. The two other characters, though they also share their love of music, stay mostly in the background and only come up once in a while. The novel can be considered ‘coming of age’ because it shows Jessica’s growth during those three years. Mostly, though, it is Jessica’s story. The book has a ‘diary’ feel to it, as it is written using mostly narration and not so much dialogue. I would also like to point out that this work is focused on characterization and not so much on plot. Very little happens plot wise, so the reader won’t find any twists and turns. It is simply a well-written first person account of what a violin student goes through in a prestigious school. I particularly loved all the references to composers and musical pieces; the novel is filled with them and this is one thing musicians or music students who read this novel will enjoy.
I recently asked the author what the inspiration for the book was and this is what she had to say:
“It’s loosely based on my teenage journals and my experiences at the real high school where the story takes place, Cass Technical High School. This school, kind of like a combination of New York’s High School of Music and Art and the Bronx High School of Science, with a plethora of other specialties added to the mix, was a unique opportunity for kids of that age to ‘specialize’ in their field of interest, and ‘major’ in a curriculum of their choice. Some of the students in the Music Curriculum went straight from high school to the Detroit Symphony; that is an example of the extraordinary level of education afforded by this school. College was almost a let-down for me after that. In four years being in that orchestra, whose conductor was my mentor, an amazing Russian man who was totally devoted to his students, we studied and/or performed all of the major symphonies and other symphonic works of the great masters: Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky – I could go on ad infinitum. It was a life-altering experience for me. Even now, whenever I hear a piece I had played there, the first thought that occurs to me is: ‘I played that at Cass Tech.’ What a wonderful foundation for my subsequent musical life! AND the three closest friends I bonded with during those years – my ‘FourEver Friends’ – well, we’re still each other’s closest friends. The book is a love letter to them, and I wanted to share our story with the world. There’s so much love there!”
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