The Sound of Letting Go by Stasia Ward Kehoe (website | twitter)
Publication Date: February 6, 2014
Publisher: Viking Children’s
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: books written in verse, autism, female trumpet player
Format Read: ARC received from the author.
Summary: Daisy’s family life is very complicated as they are constantly on pins and needles around her younger brother who has autism. When her parents make a very difficult decision, Daisy is unsure how to handle the news and acts out as a result of the chaos in her life.
Though not exactly by choice, I somehow don’t read many books written in verse. Maybe because there just aren’t as many? After reading The Sound of Letting Go by Stasia Ward Kehoe, I find myself really, really wishing for more.
In TSoLG, Daisy is an award-winning trumpet player. She’s a straight-A student who plays by the rules and is very diligent about being home on time and helping her parents with her younger brother, Steven, who is autistic. Daisy realizes there are a lot of “high school” activities she’s missing out on because of her family’s situation, but she doesn’t dare complain. She’s a very mature young woman who sorts through her emotions in a very considerate way. Does she like that she has to turn down Dave when he suddenly asks her out on a date? No. But she’s also not the girl who is going to blabber off excuses to Dave so he’ll continue to pursue her. (I really liked that about Daisy — if Dave was interested, he’d keep trying, even if he didn’t know why Daisy blew him off.)
Despite all the precautions Daisy and her parents take to make sure Steven is as cared-for as possible, their situation only intensifies as he becomes stronger and they become more concerned for their safety. This leads Daisy’s parents to make a very difficult decision that begins a downward spiral for her. Suddenly the life Daisy so carefully constructed for herself doesn’t make sense — if there’s to be no Steven around, then why should she have to be the perfect student? Why should she throw her everything into her music? Why shouldn’t she say yes to going out with Dave? What would life be like if she got to experience a few HBO moments of her own?
Though I haven’t experienced exactly what Daisy and her family dealt with on a day-to-day basis, Stasia’s words pulled me in and immediately connected me to their story. There’s this great internal debate Daisy is struggling with — desiring freedom to live her life as she’d like, but also not wanting to give up on her brother. She’s afraid of what her life might be like if all the walls and rules and guidelines they’ve abided by for so so so long suddenly aren’t necessary anymore. Can you imagine her struggle? It certainly makes sense to me why she’d lash out.
Stasia’s words are so beautifully written. So carefully chosen. I couldn’t put The Sound of Letting Go down. I sincerely hope that you’ll connect with Daisy through her music, the emotional journey that it is to feel powerless when a big decision is made without your input, and her struggle to grasp onto reality when everything around her seems to be changing without her consent.
I’m very, very honored to share an author interview with Stasia Ward Kehoe with you guys. Stasia is an amazingly sweet woman whom I admire very much. I felt so nervous while drafting my questions for her because I so desperately wanted them to be a reflection of how much I loved The Sound of Letting Go. I hope you’ll fall in love with Stasia as much as I have and swing by your local bookstore in a few short days (February 6th – mark your calendars!) to support her!
1. Your words in The Sound of Letting Go feel so intentional and purposeful. Nothing seems overly stated, but you make such a powerful statement. What’s the most challenging aspect of writing in verse and will you continue to write as such in your upcoming books?
The most challenging aspect of writing in verse is making sure that plot threads are not lost due to the poetic structure. I change a lot of individual words, not just in revision but in first pass pages and even final proofs. For me, the way lines break on the page and things like that matter, so it’s both a writing thing and a graphic, structural thing. I am currently writing another novel in verse. For some inexplicable reason, I find myself drawn to this form.
2. Daisy’s younger brother is autistic in TSoLG. Why did you choose to write about a family with an autistic child? This is something I personally saw my sister tested for when I was younger, but I feel I learned so much about in this book. Daisy felt so incredibly isolated and mature-beyond-her-years because of her brother’s diagnosis. What do you hope readers will gain from their story?
I started this novel wanting to write about a strong-willed girl who played an instrument that is perceived as masculine: the trumpet. But life is funny. While working on my first draft, I met a woman whose younger son has autism, and learned about the toll it had taken on her family. I began to think about incorporating autism into the manuscript. After that, it seemed like everywhere I turned there was a statistic about autism. Every time I mentioned my story idea, people would share an experience about an autistic child, sibling, neighbor, family friend. I did a great deal of research to create the specifics of Steven’s autism but it is my hope that readers who have all kinds of special needs individuals in their lives will find, through the book, one way to safely explore some very tough realities and begin some challenging conversations.
3. I loved that Steven, Daisy’s brother, is the cause for so many aspects that affect Daisy and her parents — being silent, following a strict schedule, no abrupt changes. How would your story have been different if we had experienced it through Steven’s point of view?
One of the most difficult parts of autism is the way it limits the ability to communicate with others. While I can tell you a great deal about Steven’s diagnostic situation, I could not could tell you his deepest feelings any more than Daisy could. So I don’t think I could have written the book from Steven’s point of view.
4. When Daisy’s parents make a pivotal decision regarding Steven’s care, Daisy doesn’t exactly know what to do with herself. She’s scared of accepting their decision, angry that she wasn’t part of the decision-making process, and anxious to be able to live a little more freely, whether or not she’d like to admit it. She begins acting out. Dave, the high school bad-boy, is there to provide a distraction for Daisy (and despite his status, I very much felt drawn to him as a character). What do you hope your readers will gain from Dave and Daisy’s relationship and the way these two childhood friends are pulled back together after such a long time apart?
I’m glad you were drawn to Dave! When I first sent the book to my editor, their relationship at the end of the book was very different. However, I, like you, found myself increasingly drawn to Dave and wound up changing the last third of the book as a result! I think what separated Daisy and Dave as grade-schoolers were their families’ struggles. Both felt an increasing need to protect their families from the small-town rumor mill. And both felt like their situations made them inferior to others in some ways. Dave became defiant. Daisy became a perfectionist. Ultimately, they help each other escape both of these extremes.
5. In my personal life, when one thing is going wrong, it feels like everything else follows suit. This was most certainly true for Daisy — her parents make a decision about Steven, her best friendship begins to suffer over boyfriend jealousy, and she begins skipping classes and letting herself off the hook for a majority of her responsibilities. Despite everything that’s crumbling, music seems to be one aspect that holds Daisy together. What kind of role does music play in your life and how did that impact creating Daisy’s character?
I grew up a ballerina and, though I love it, music does not play as critical a role for me as it does for Daisy. Where I connect with Daisy is in the joy and solace she finds in making art. For me, it is dancing and writing, not jazz trumpet. But the making of art itself fills a space in the soul and I totally get that.
6. Because we’re such music-lovers and we love adding new music to our playlists, can you share some of your musical inspiration for The Sound of Letting Go?
Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue album, which my dad first played for me decades ago feels like an exploration of the act of creation. Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah will make you weep—I first heard it on the Shrek soundtrack, if you can believe it, and I’ve listened to and loved many recordings of it since. Finally, there’s an Irish folk music motif that runs through THE SOUND OF LETTING GO, from the songs of Daisy’s parents’ meeting to the world from which Cal O’Casey runs away, that is captured in The Makem & Clancy Collection album. There’s a track on that album called The Dutchman that makes me think of the way the family cares for Steven, and another called The Ballad of St. Anne’s Reel that is a love song to music itself.
Thank you so much, Stasia, for dropping by the blog and sharing more about
your work with us! I’m very much looking forward to your future books!