Review: Sing Like No One’s Listening by Vanessa Jones

Review: Sing Like No One’s Listening by Vanessa Jones

‘Nettie Delaney hasn’t been able to sing a note since her mum died. This wouldn’t be a problem if she wasn’t now attending Dukes, the most prestigious performing arts college in the country, with her superstar mother’s shadow hanging over her. Nettie has her work cut out for her and everyone is watching.

But one night, in an empty studio after college, Nettie finds herself suddenly singing, as someone behind the curtain accompanies her on the piano. Maybe all is not lost for Nettie. Maybe she can find her voice again and survive her first year at Dukes. But can she do it before she gets thrown out?’

Sing Like No One’s Listening is such a fun read and I loved every minute of it. I guess I haven’t confessed my undying love for the West End yet, have I? I read the book cover to cover during a journey on a recent holiday and don’t actually remember much of where we travelled through – I was too involved in the story! Sing Like No One’s Listening introduces the reader to Nettie, who has been accepted by a prestigious performing arts academy despite believing she failed her audition, and who wants to follow in her late mother’s footsteps. The only problem is that she hasn’t been able to sing since her mother passed away.

The key thing about Sing Like No One’s Listening is that the characters read in an engaging way that does not feel laboured. The dialogue is not forced and the characters’ interaction feels natural, its fast pace one of the things that helps to keep the reader interested. There’s no unnecessary exposition, and with the world of Duke’s being experienced through Nettie’s gaze, we learn about both the setting and its people as she does, meaning there may be a lot to get to grips with reasonably quickly, but there are frequent, interesting additions and elements to the narrative that keep the story travelling apace. Many of the main cast are met early in the novel and it’s these that the story stays with, letting us get to know them as Nettie forges these first friendships at her new home. The story’s structure is one that, I feel, would lend itself well to television. I loved its myriad of musical references and features that feel as if they belong in a stage show.

I really felt for Nettie, particularly during her ballet lessons, in which the expectations and the pressure applied are detailed in a manner that is no exaggeration. The behaviour of her teacher may be completely unacceptable, but the atmosphere created is something that is an accurate representation of what many experience in ballet and dance classes. I took ballet classes until my mid teens and my teacher was absolutely lovely – she could not have done more for us – but the fact remains that, even when you do well and receive praise, you are left feeling that you are not enough, for every aspect of your performance, including your posture, weight and general appearance, is commented on. I’ve heard ballet instructors use more or less some of the same insults (meant to be ‘jokes’) that Moore does when remarking on her students’ appearance and performance, and to be subjected to this and continue on says much for the resilience of both Nettie and those who have to experience this behaviour towards them.

There’s a good range of representation within the novel, with some elements a little more subtle than others. It also explores a number of issues, such as grief, mental health, body confidence, bullying and prejudice. Though Nettie goes through a great deal in her attempt to find her voice and process her grief, it’s facets of Kiki’s behaviour that are, perhaps, ultimately more worrying, as she starts to take more drastic steps to try and make herself become what the industry demands of her in response to comments made by staff and students. The book addresses the aforementioned issues in a manner that offers hope and is uplifting in its handling of them without taking away from their serious nature, often employing good natured humour in its character interactions. On the whole, it’s a lighter read, with due care and attention paid to the impact of living a life in the performing world, which is sensitively addressed and contrasted with the often irreverent humour employed primarily by its male cast.

Sing Like No One’s Listening is out now, with a sequel, Dance Like No One is Watching, arriving soon! Thank you to Macmillan and My Kinda Book for sending me a copy!

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