Last year, Non Pratt’s debut novel Trouble completely took me by surprise. I honestly never expected a contemporary YA novel about teen pregnancy to so complete absorb me and make me care so powerfully about the characters in it, but it completely blew me away with its heartfelt plot, witty dialogue and perfect pacing, and went on to be my Favourite Book of 2014. Through the magic of Twitter, and so far too few and brief meetings at London based events, I discovered that Non and I shared a massive love in our lives: Music. For me music is the most profound and exciting thing in my life – more than even books, and my whole life I’ve been swept up obsessively with notes and lyrics. I feel my heartbeat quicken when my favourite part of song comes up, and I smile when my favourite drum beat kicks in, or bass fill blasts out in the background. Basically, I’m a tune-freak and a proper little music nerd, and I discovered Non was super into Pop-Punk bands from the 90s, which is one of my favourite areas of music – from Green Day to New Found Glory, Rancid to Alkaline Trio. When Remix was announced, a contemporary YA book about two best friends attending their first music festival together, I was so excited. Trouble had managed to make me care about characters that I never expected to, and this second book featured characters I have so much in common with, so I was bound to be swept up by the plot and lost in the nostalgia. I wasn’t wrong… I finished Remix in a single sitting.
It’s a fairly simple story. Kaz is struggling with the sudden break up of her last relationship. She’d always thought Tom was the love of her life, that they’d always be together, but he’d abruptly dumped her at the beginning of the summer holidays and she hasn’t seen or spoken to him since. Ruby, Kaz’s best friend is quite frankly sick of hearing about him. When her boyfriend Stu did the dirty with some tart at a party, she didn’t spend the holidays moping about it – she got on with life and made the most of her last few months before her older brother leaves home. In fact, as part of her plans to put her ex (and some pretty ropey GCSE results) behind her, and help Kaz move on and maybe score a brand new boy, Ruby has managed to convince her brother and his friends to let the two girls tag along to Remix Festival, their very first music festival. To top it all off, Goldentone – their favourite band – are headlining. It’s going to be the perfect weekend of music, dancing, drinks and boys, to see off their last year at secondary school. Except life is never quite that simple, and there’s no such thing as a perfect weekend. You can’t hide from your past… You’ve got to accept the mistakes everybody makes.
If there’s a YA author in the UK who creates better teenaged characters in their books than Non, I’ve not come across them yet. Everyone in Remix is messy and beautiful and so balanced between intelligent and caring, and emotional and short-sighted. They make mistakes – some of them massive, some of them consciously spiteful, or they do things that they know are stupid or wrong, which is great because real people do those things! Especially teenagers. None of Kaz or Ruby’s decisions or interactions feel forced to drive the plot. They might be stupid ideas, sure, but they feel organic and natural. Ruby is funny, sarcastic and crackles with a constant state of energy and aggression that makes her chapters race and bounce along furiously, but she’s also filled with a repressed sadness too, a melancholy that just lurks under the surface and lends her reckless nature a desperation to it. Kaz is sweet and naïve, and her chapters flow with an almost ethereal quality, perfectly balancing out against Ruby. There’s a passage where her attitudes and love towards music is described that struck such a wonderful chord with me, because it’s exactly how I feel when I get lost in notes and melodies.
As with Trouble, there’s a fantastic crew of supporting characters throughout Remix that lend the book such fantastic dialogue. Ruby’s relationship with her older brother Lee is fantastic, I love their little jabs and insults – it’s all very down-to-Earth and lets their love shine through. Stu is a classic example of Non’s ability to create complex characters who can be brilliantly caring but infuriatingly harsh all at once, and I’m totally in love with Sebastian, a boy who’s not beautiful enough to make girls melt, but whose talents shine through making him charming and attractive. We need more characters in books who aren’t textbook beautiful.
There are so many reasons I love Remix. It taps into the hope, the passion and the bittersweet anxiety of growing up. The promises that music can offer to us, weighed up against the harsh nature of reality make for a heartfelt and ambiguous story that feels nostalgic, but sad all at once. Friendship is at its core, and the friendship here is beautiful (it often reminded me strongly of Renée & Flo from Dawn O’Porter’s Paper Aeroplanes/Goose), but they’re far from perfect. There’s a sense of change, of unease about the two main characters that I felt keenly. No boyfriend or girlfriend will ever be able to break your heart like a best friend. The dark twists and mistakes made by the two girls creates a mounting tension between all the characters in the book and by the last chapters, the events feel derailed by their recklessness. Ruby, particularly whirls in a drunken, self-hating fury in the climax of the book. It’s powerful, but difficult to read. The whole tone of the book balances hope and uncertainty in a way that I think any reader can relate to, and by using music – such a fundamental aspect of life – it makes characters and settings we can immediately feel for. Non has also filled the book with nods and references to music, songs and bands that made my nerdy little heart well up and explode (“Ruby, as in Soho?”), as well as giving each chapter the name of a song, most of which made me squee with joy (Dark Blue, Dirty Little Secret, Toxic, Dammit – to name a few).
Basically, I found Remix to be the perfect coming of age story. Blisteringly intelligent, emotionally articulate and musically inspired, it uses short chapters told from two contrasting viewpoints to create a dynamic, heartfelt book that once again encapsulates the drama, the feelings and the terrifying promises that life as a young adult can promise. Non’s characters are diverse and she never shys away from the harder truths and consequences actions can have. It was an absolute joy to read.
Thnks fr th mmrs,
P.S. Remix is out in June 2015, but you can pre-order a copy here.