In recent years, I’ve tried to be more cognizant of what I’m reading because I think it’s important to read diverse books. Throughout my education, I read a lot of novels by dead old white guys because they were classics. But now that my reading is no longer guided by syllabi, I’m trying to step away from the writing of dead old white guys. I’ve made a more conscious effort to read queer, disability, and minority narratives, but all by American authors about American characters. Reading books authored by people of other nationalities about characters of other nationalities is still an area of reading diversely where I fall short.
So when I ran across Swedish author Sara Lövestam’s Wonderful Feels Like This about a Swedish teen who bonds with an elderly retired jazz musician named Alvar over jazz music, I knew I had to read it. Fortunately, I was able to snag an Advance Reading Copy through a Goodreads giveaway. If you liked the dual narratives in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, then you might also enjoy this story.
The biggest hurdle in reading this book was that I knew very little about Swedish culture, particularly how public education is structured. I also knew very little about jazz music. So my ignorance of these cultures made getting into the story and understanding it a bit difficult. Also, I read this book as a translation from Swedish which made some of the writing feel a little stilted and I felt that maybe I could only get its true essence if I was able to read it in Swedish.
Despite these hurdles, the novel soars in the moments when it touches on more universal experiences. The main character, Steffi, is bullied by her peers and finds refuge in her niche interest of WWII-era jazz music. You don’t have to be Swedish to understand feeling like the Token Weird Kid and enduring unwarranted abuse from your peers. Music is a way to bring people of all nationalities, backgrounds, and ages together, which is demonstrated in Steffi’s friendship with Alvar.
The story winds together Steffi’s present-day journey to find her place in the world with Alvar’s memories of becoming a part of Stockholm’s jazz scene during World War II. The most striking part of the weaving of their narratives is we get to meet the elderly versions of the people in Alvar’s memories as well as some of their descendants who are Steffi’s classmates. The most powerful instance of these generations coming together was in seeing how hatred and abuse can spread through multiple generations of a family.
For a YA novel, it contains few of the standards common to this genre, and delightfully so. Steffi survives the torment of her bullies and loves who she is without a romantic interest declaring her worth. In fact, romance doesn’t even factor into any of the plots, as Steffi’s story is centered on her musical aspirations and acceptance of herself. Alvar’s memories do have a romantic subplot, but it is interwoven with a coming of age story that pairs well with Steffi’s own experiences.
It was a delightful and enjoyable read, perfect for outsiders, jazz music enthusiasts, and anyone who’d like a peek into Sweden today and during World War II.
Check out Sara Lövestam on Twitter and on her website.
Purchase Wonderful Feels Like This on Amazon.
Featured Image: Goodreads
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