Thursday, April 15, 2010

Guest Blogger, T.S. Ferguson: Book Review - "Sorta Like a Rock Star"

Confession time: when I first learned of Matthew Quick’s debut YA novel, Sorta Like a Rock Star, I didn’t know if it was a book I was going to like. I’d heard it described as “‘Juno’ meets Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl: ‘Juno’ for the quirky language and Stargirl for its message of hope.” To be honest, I just wasn’t sure it was my cup of tea. It was a matter of personal taste. But since my good friend Alvina was its editor, I wanted to support her, so I picked up the advance readers copy (ARC) she gave me and dove in. And I’m really glad I did. Word.

Sorta Like a Rock Star is narrated by Amber Appleton, who lives on a bus called “Hello Yellow” with her single mother, who has an alcohol problem and terrible taste in men. But despite Amber’s less-than-ideal circumstances, she remains ever positive. She’s kind to everyone she meets, volunteers at a local retirement home, befriends a local war vet, and uses the music of Diana Ross & the Supremes to teach the Korean women in her church community how to speak English. To all who know her, Amber Appleton is the “princess of hope.” But when a tragedy occurs, Amber loses her faith in the world, in her fellow man, and most of all, in God.

When I first started reading Quick’s novel, the first thing I questioned was the voice—I was afraid it felt too gimmicky. Amber has an incredibly unique way of speaking; she’s very casual and very colloquial. But the more I read, the more I fell in love with it. Just like with a new friend, the more time you spend together, the more their voice comes to symbolize the person you are so fond of. And in this case, Amber’s voice fits her personality perfectly—she’s a quirky, weird girl. A proud freak. A hero for readers who need to be reminded what faith in yourself—and a few good deeds—can do.

I cried a lot while reading Rock Star, but that may not shock those who know me. I’m a cry-whore, though I do give props to the books that really get me good. I also smiled a lot, though, and found myself chuckling at some of Amber’s lines and that special way she has of handling the folks around her. Amber Appleton is a modern-day Pollyanna, only more realistic and lacking the negative (re: obnoxious) connotation associated with the classic character. Amber inspires people—a ray of sunshine for those who need it most—and she does it because it’s simply what comes natural to her. So when her hopes are crushed by unimaginable tragedy, it’s no surprise that the entire town rallies around her.

One thing I want to call out in particular is the portrayal of Amber’s autistic best friend, Ricky Roberts. While all the misfits in Amber’s band of friends play an important role in her story, Ricky stood out the most for me. I was impressed that Ricky was portrayed as a normal kid, with normal capabilities, who wasn’t held back by his autism. He isn’t described as mentally challenged—his autism is a part of who he is and he lives a fairly normal life, despite the occasional school bully. Plus, he’s a math genius akin to Roald Dahl’s character Matilda, which I thought was pretty awesome. Quick’s handling of Ricky’s dialogue was particularly impressive. I have an autistic cousin who is graduating from high school this year and I could almost hear him in my head as I read Ricky’s dialogue. Also, Ricky’s speech to the school board at the end of Part One was one of the first scenes that made me cry.

Rock Star will appeal to anyone who appreciates fresh, original voices and a plot that keeps you laughing one minute and sobbing all over the pages the next. Fans of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian will enjoy Quick’s story not only because both are narrated by kids from poor families who deal with great tragedy and rise above it, but because both novels do a great job of balancing humor and sadness to leave readers feeling uplifted. I would recommend Sorta Like a Rock Star to anyone who wants a reason to smile, a reason to believe in the good in the world, or just wants to read a fun book about a character they can really fall in love with.
True? True.
Quick's YA novel hits shelves in May, so grab a copy and enjoy!

About the blogger: T.S. Ferguson is a former Assistant Editor with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, where he worked on young adult and middle grade fiction. As assistant to the Editoral Director, T.S. worked with authors such as Sherman Alexie, Sara Zarr and Pseudonymous Bosch. His editorial debut, Hate List by Jennifer Brown, was released to much acclaim this past September and has since been named a School Library Journal Best Book of 2009, a Children's Indie Next Pick, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. In his spare time, T.S. enjoys nonstop karaoke (at a bar or in his bedroom---he doesn't care), and is currently working on a YA novel of his own. Visit him at .


  1. Excellent review of an excellent novel. I, too, was privileged to get an ARC and, although I am far past being a YA, I was immediately captivated by Amber. Mr. Quick hit all the right notes with this one - wonderful characters, a very poignant story, terrific use of humor and, most of all, demonstrating the value of being positive and kind.

  2. oooh 2 out of 2 thumbs up! Will def have to check this one out myself :)

    Thanks for reading, Scott!

  3. Always interesting to me when an author creates a main character of the opposite sex, particularly a teenager. Would love to read this after TS's great review.

  4. Great review, TS. I saw this cover in the LBYR catalog and immediately folded the page (I'm always attracted to colorful covers and good catalog copy!).