Vivaldi in the Dark, Matthew J. Metzger
Publisher: Queerteen Press
Genre: YA, Contemporary, LGBT (G), Psychological
Length: 91,700 words
Purchase At: Queerteen Press, amazon.com (coming soon)
***WARNING: Vivaldi in the Dark does contain mature themes such as self-harm, depression, bullying and attempted suicide. In addition it does acknowledge sexual acts having occurred between two consenting teenagers 15 and 16. If you feel you cannot cope with depictions of these themes please do not read this review and take it into consideration before reading this book.***
“The baton came down, the bows came up, and the storm ended.”
Darren is highly skilled when it comes to playing violin, playing in his school’s string orchestra – holding the first violin position – and being the key soloist. Main problem with this is the orchestra master’s obsession with Vivaldi. At the beginning of the school year orchestra practice has moved to a local theatre. Darren stands alone in a dark storeroom after rehearsal practicing Vivaldi til it hurts. Here he is found playing a tragic tune by Jayden.
Jayden is seemingly the polar opposite of Darren, good at English when Darren’s good at mathematics, and no musical talent to speak of compared to Darren’s infinite skills. In their first meeting Darren sees Jayden as what he truly is, a young, bullied and gay 16 year old. Feeling a level of sympathy and attraction Darren defends Jayden from a bully when they are confronted getting coffee after this first meeting.
Jayden has a life plan; finish Year 11 at his comprehensive school, get a scholarship for 6th form to the prestigious St John’s school (where Darren goes,) get into Cambridge, get a boyfriend and live, in that exact order. Suffering the torment from being the only openly gay kid in school, this plan is what gets Jayden through school everyday. All this turns itself on its head when the last parts of his plan threaten to happen first as he discovers how attracted he is to Darren and how the feeling is mutual.
Darren is hiding though, with dark thoughts frequently invaded his mind. While he really likes spending time with Jayden and developing a relationship, he does not want to impose his broken nature on a boy who Darren believes deserves better.
Why This Book is So Mind-Blowingly Excellent
Depiction of Depression
For those who are depressed life boils down into good days, bad days and a variety of in-betweens. When someone is on a good day you might never guess there is something sinister lurking behind their eyes, waiting to take over and destroy all levels of reason. Darren is an all too familiar example of this. To Jayden he appears as confident, highly skilled in music and mathematics, and blessed with money and anything else he could ask from his parents in terms of gifts.
“It felt dim. He felt as though he was watching the ceiling through a thin veil. He felt heavy, like something was pressing his limbs back into the mattress, a solid weight on his shoulders and face. He felt exhausted, so utterly that the sounds of Misha wailing and Father’s low cadence were like a film set too quiet, and listened to underwater. Even the motion of breathing seemed too energetic.”
Behind this alluring disguise Darren’s brain is working against him and he just won’t bring himself to tell anyone, sitting in the sealed prison of his own demise; the one exception to this rule is Jayden. Darren, as part of this malaise, tells Jayden in order to give his newly found boyfriend a way out, in other words, turn and run from such a broken person. But Jayden stays and commits himself to Darren. (There is trepidation but what else can you truly expect from a 16 year old boy?)
I really appreciate how the author has captured this illness on page, and how the inexperienced and fearful minds of Jayden and Darren react to it’s movements. Exposing depression in literature provides a way to communicate it’s symptoms to those who may be confused about it, and thus help bring about a better level of understanding for everyone who reads this book.
Oh how I love using that word…. But in all seriousness I did enjoy the realism of Vivaldi in the Dark to the highest degree. Any regular reader of reviews will know how greatly I praise this in books and how I intensely dislike melodramatic and unrealistic situations fictional characters sometimes find themselves in.
Vivaldi in the Dark is a story where I can utterly relate with each character and situation. I actually drool and shudder (my partner can attest to this) when I find characters placed in situations I can appreciate in this way and I love it. Everything, from the bullying at school to the jealous nature friends adopt when suddenly find they’re no longer no. 1 in your life, was wonderfully portrayed in this book.
Sex, Drugs n’ Rock & Roll
Well there were no drugs, and there was definitely no rock and roll, but there was sex in this book, a tricky topic for those set in the young adult genre. Vivaldi in the Dark hits the nail on the head, finding the middle ground in being able to tastefully describe that these acts are taking place but still remain outside the realm of even low level erotica. In this world it is well known that teenagers have sex, and anyone who denies this is kidding themselves.
I believe the wonderful safe sex speech given by Jayden’s father really sums up what teenagers should really be looking for.
“I think you’re old enough and mature enough to make that decision for yourself when you want to have sex. And if that first time is with a steady boyfriend who cares about you, then right there is an ideal situation. I’m not saying jump right into it and go nuts, but I am saying that there’s nothing wrong with it, long as you both want it.
The One Really, Really Minor Thing That’s Off About This
I really do not have too much to say against Vivaldi in the Dark. This book was to me absolutely superb with only one minor issue doggedly affecting it. Unfortunately a final line edit would have worked wonders fixing up several minor grammatical errors and misspellings. None of these errors drew away from the excellent story though, and for that reason I have not marked it down. Honestly, the worse that came from it was having to read one particular sentence twice to realise that Jayden meant to say ‘them’ instead of ‘him.’
I can already say without a doubt that Vivaldi in the Dark is up there as one of my books of the year (helps that it’s December of course :).) The book deals with teen depression tastefully and maturely in a way that’s perfectly relatable to a young adult audience. On top of this is a wonderful and realistic relationship that grows between the two protagonists, allowing both to break from the confines of their dark and self-loathing worlds. I will wholeheartedly recommend this book to everyone who reads this genre and even to some who don’t.
“For the first time in six years, Darren felt maybe – maybe – it was going to be all right.”