The Lost Songs

256p. CIP. Delacorte. 2011. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-385-73966-5; PLB $20.99. ISBN 978-0-385-90800-9; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-0-375-89805-1. LC 2010039975.
Gr 7–10—Lutie is an intelligent South Carolinian teenager with a drug-addicted mother and a decision to make: she has been asked to make public the family folk songs passed down by her great-great-grandmother, a slave, and never written down. Lutie is one of four teen central characters of different races featured. The story is about the ways they come together, uniting through mutual realizations of the importance of their Christian faith, personal responsibilities, and redemption through community involvement. While the teens are mildly relatable, Cooney saves her vibrant imagery for the larger-than-life pastor Miss Veola, her pink church, and the run-down neighborhood in which she ministers. Some may find Cooney's depictions of Southern African American life disingenuous, but fans will recognize her style: characters who ponder deep thoughts in simple phrases and an ending that is neatly packaged. Actual difficulties raised by cultural and racial differences, the painful realities of drug addiction and urban poverty, and the rigors required for musical accomplishment are oversimplified, and the Christian element is so strong as to be proselytizing.—Rhona Campbell, formerly at Washington, DC Public Library
"You and me, we inherited songs. They're my grandma's shouts to God," Lutie's own grandmother used to tell her. Lutie works hard to protect "The Laundry List" songs and to understand her addict mother. In this satisfying novel set in the South, Lutie's story intersects with those of three other kids at her high school; the lost songs help all four characters find themselves.
From the spirituals Lutie Painter sings on her grandmother’s lawn to the Bach fugues her classmate, Doria Bell, plays in church, The Lost Songs is a rapturous celebration of music. Cooney captures her characters’ performances with descriptions that appeal directly to the senses: “From Lutie’s throat came a low rich growl of a note, which she dragged up an octave and a half and then swirled back down, settling on a sweet warm E-flat.” The book raises thought-provoking questions about cultural heritage, ownership, and obligation. Are Lutie’s ancestor’s songs hers to protect or are they hers to share? Characters span generations, races, and classes. Expertly shifting from one perspective to the next, Cooney brings an entire Southern town to life—from the prim and lonely Doria to the dangerous and desperate “Train” Greene. Cooney’s real-life experience as a church organist and a northerner transplanted to the South helped inspire The Lost Songs. Her deep familiarity with these subjects shines through in confidently observed details. (“A full organ at full volume was in total control. Her audience couldn’t think, move or talk. She owned these people. Doria grinned.”)

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