Book Review: Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer

At the age of nine, I started playing the violin. I played in the school orchestra right up through Senior year of high school. I took private lessons in junior high and high school, and for a little while in college before giving it up for good. I was never so passionate about music as the girls in Sara Bennett Wealer’s Rival, but I recognize the stresses and pressures she depicts. But this novel is about so much more than music.

RivalRival by Sara Bennett Wealer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Book Source: checked out from my public library

Even with all those people between us, even with our folders up, our eyes on Mr. Anderson, and our voices busy on a really hard Bach catata, I feel a steady ping coming off of Brooke like the signal from a giant antenna.

Brooke and Kathryn used to be friends, and now they are bitter enemies. From the outside, popular Brooke and shy Kathryn have nothing in common but a love of music. Their shared history is gradually revealed in sections that alternate between present events and what happened one year earlier.

After reading the first chapter, narrated by Kathryn, it would be easy to think that this is a simple drama of Mean Girl bullying, but Wealer weaves a more complicated tale. That becomes clear by the end of the second chapter, as Brooke begins her side of the story. Both girls are flawed but sympathetic characters; neither one is really the hero(ine) or the villain. Wealer perfectly captures the complicated lives of teenage girls: the secrets, the rivalries, the betrayals. The raw emotions are true to life, as are the pressures that both girls deal with. Tensions build on all fronts until a satisfying conclusion that manages to avoid being too neat or easy. A terrific contemporary realistic read.

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