this song is for you

7124053a little wanting song by Cath Crowley

I read the U.S. Printing: Knopf, 2010.

265 pages.

Novel was first published in Australia in 2005 by Macmillan

with the title Chasing Charlie Duskin.

A Little Wanting Song

It’s just a little wanting song

It won’t go on for all that long

Just long enough to say

How much I’m wishing for

Just a little more

I had read a review or two on Cath Crowley’s a little wanting song and was intrigued, but not too motivated.  I usually leave the music-centric reads to the husband. I was in the Library the other day and it came to mind just the same. If they had it in, maybe I would pick it up for Sean.  It sat in the  Library basket a few days. I picked it up Tuesday morning-ish and finished it at 1145 pm. Yes, this is a beginning to an apology, and an overall admittance to my idiocy. I’m sorry Cath Crowley, and sorry book reviewers who had nothing but raves for their experiences with the read. I am an idiot for putting this read off and shoving it down the TBR list where it was precariously perched to begin with.

An explanation as to my usual avoidance of Music Fiction. I love music, I do. I can even read music, and my singing in the shower is exceptional. And one of these times I would like to learn the guitar.

Like many adolescents I did listen to music most every waking hour and wished they’d quit play the Rembrandts on every station after I learned to drive. I mostly listened to country or pop music, though some alternative began to sneak in. I really did not discover the music that presently informs me until college, nor did I really go to any shows or learn any useful trivia for parties until then and after. My familial history involves old country music via dad and my mom grew up on Polka and American Bandstand (she will pretty much listen to anything now) and my brother had a Lost Boys soundtrack that I pretty much stole—no one touched his Def Leppard tape.

So my adolescence didn’t come with a soundtrack and the closest teen outing to a show was when two of my male classmates thought it would be great if I would go to a White Zombie concert with them in Dallas. There was a speculative gleam in their baby blues that I can now identify, but back then I registered as a “best not” sort of feeling. I think I may have missed out on a foolishly good time.

There is something a bit ‘too cool’ about music fiction, especially in Young Adult Lit. Then there is some envy. But primarily, the connections the characters are making to music, or are driven by, do not resonate with me. There is a glamour or sophistication amidst all the grit of these novels with which I haven’t the interest. The soul of the book doesn’t surface for me.  Maybe I haven’t given them a chance.

A response to a little wanting song:

Cath Crowley’s A little wanting song is unarguably a book saturated with music: music notes/keys as settings, band/song references often used similes or metaphors (“I gave them a look with a little attitude, though. Sort of like Shirley Manson, the singer from garbage, that time she lost it onstage” (19)), some of Charlie’s lyrics are included…

What is beautiful about Crowley’s music novel is how often it in itself reads like a song. The prose are lyrical, rhythmic and pretty; and poignant. What is lovely about Crowley’s story is that it doesn’t overreach and it settles for nothing less than Artistry in style and voice. This is Lit, not forgettable pulp writing Hollywood vignettes.

The characters and their stories create a lovely and familiar ache. Their stories are profoundly human, and they resonate.

Rose doesn’t want to become like her mother, getting pregnant before ever getting away, stuck in a small town going no where, reading magazines instead of books. Rose is intelligent, loves school, and has ambitions. She wants desperately to get away to the city where she can pursue her dreams.

Charlie (Charlotte) wants, too. She wants friends. She wants her dad to come back to life. It is a delightful aspect to the story that Charlie’s mother and grandmother talk to her. But they are more present and active than the still living Mr. Duskin’s is. At one point in the story the (paternal) Grandfather says “We have to [make new memories]. If you can’t do that, then you die” (98). The dead continue living in the memories, as do the living.  The act of living creates memories, and memories verify one’s existence.

Charlie: I want a whole lot more. I want someone to talk to. I want someone who can fix things when they’re broken. I want to scream and have someone come running down the hall in their slippers, out of breath with worry. […] The world has lost its ears today. I’m screaming and no one can hear me. (141)

Rose’s best friend and Charlie’s romantic interest, Dave Robbie may be too cool. He may be just too much sugar. He is wonderful. And his relationship with his dad …

Luke, Rose’s boyfriend, and overall troublemaker is the least developed character of the three, but we are limited for a long time by Rose’s narration where he is concerned. It is the later Charlie narratives that he is pulled from cliché/device and confusion. Throughout, however, there is little doubt he is a good foil for Rose, and an excellent conflict.

Charlie writes a wonderful song for Rose and Luke (227), here is the chorus:

She can’t start with him again

He’s got the end of her

He can’t give her ocean

And he can’t give her her

Every character drawn has a longing. Their venues in which to explore differ. Rose uses science to make sense of the world. Charlie uses music. Mrs. Butler uses domesticity.  Dave and cars. You want for them, and for yourself, and the pain of it feels like living (not dying).

a little wanting song has humor.

I told Luke and Dave about Mum getting pregnant before she was married. They looked at me, burgers halfway to their mouths. “Unbelievable.” Luke said. “They did it in a car?”

“What sort of car was it?” Dave asked.

“A Holden.”

“That’s a good car, Rosie,” he said through a mouthful of food.

The only thing that mattered to Dave was that they did it in a great car. The only thing that mattered to Luke was that they did it at all. My best friends have their secrets written on T-shirts. (49)

It has lovely images.

“He followed her like a long dress dragging in the dirt” (32).

“I’m her turned inside out.” (87).

“That music folded Louise in two and put her in a drawer” (121).

a little wanting song is told in alternating first person narratives of Charlie and Rose. At times a snippet of a conversation at the end of one narrative is revisited in the next character’s providing a differing perspective. Just the same, the novel is limited to the two voices, and their perceptions of the world and its events. But they are determined to find their way, courageously taking the risks to pursue life, to not sit out or follow suit. In their pursuits realizations are met and neither character is left to their own charms or vices.

Despite the differences that have long kept them to their sides of the fence, similarities are drawn between Rose and Charlie. Both have images of their mother and make the inevitable evaluative comparisons. “I feel like we’re chasing each other. I’m chasing her to find the rest of myself and she’s chasing me to show me who I was meant to be.” ~Charlie about her mother (36); easily applicable to Rose and her mother’s relationship. Both long for parental approval (the parental relationships in this YA novel are refreshing). Both want, and know action is required are pretty much striking out alone—or are they.

Crowley accomplishes a great deal in the quick 265 page read. The alternating chapters are short, a couple pages each at most. Contemplations are interlaced amidst action creating a constant sense of movement forward. Will Charlie find out Rose was using her? Will Rose ever get out? Will Dave get past his shyness? Will Mr. Duskin’s come back to life? Will Charlie Duskin get what she wants? The tension is quiet, but ever pulsating. The balance this book maintains is fantastic!


So slowly, really slowly

I’m all the chords there are

So slowly, really slowly

I’m keys I never heard

So slowly, really slowly

I’m spinning song and dancing

Rising voice beneath my skin.


Cath Crowley’s a little wanting song was a joy to read. It is one of the best reads of my year. Don’t be the idiot I was. Put this book on your list and don’t let it slip.

If you loved Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road you will love a little wanting song, they have several sensibilities in common.


check these out:

Adele @ Persnickety Snark, review. “If there is one word that encapsulates A Little Wanting Song – it would be delicate.” After reading this, you’ll see what a complete idiot I was to have almost missed this read (though I came across it somewhere else first, even before Steph’s wonderful review).

Steph @ Steph Su Reads, review & author interview.

My on-and-on gushing review of Jellicoe Road, here.

Published by L

I read, and I write. and until recently, I sold books.

4 thoughts on “this song is for you

  1. I totally love the book, and right now I don´t have the time to read complete this post but what I read is amazing. You describe it very well. When I first read Graffiti Moon I thought that it had a tune in there. Like its own voice or melody. I love how Cath writes, like a river, something that never stops and everything is connected. So I´m gonna wait for tomorrow to read this (:
    Nice, Mai.

  2. thanks!

    well described, her writing is indeed like a river; and I agree that even though she goes on to talk about art in Graffiti Moon, there is still that melodic quality to it.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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