Songs from the Other Side by Robyn Bernstein

Robyn Bernstein’s debut novel has much to recommend it. It is a coming-of-age story about Jayne, who is trying to find her niche in a world where she is a science fanatic with intelligence that makes her stand out. Her parents’ relationship is in crisis and she is trying to reconcile their home situation with a yearning to return to New York, her perceived idea of the city being a draw to her, like a Mecca of forward thinking and anonymity, a place where she feels that she could feel comfortable.

Her relationship with her mum is one that is the most tense, as Jayne identifies with her science professor dad more. Her brother, Max is concerned with girls and competitive swimming, him being two years older than fifteen year old Jayne but they are good friends to each other, neither of them knowing that their ties to each other will be tested when tragedy strikes and takes them into a completely different environment.

The book deals with Jayne trying to navigate all of the changes that are thrust upon her and trying to hold on to what remnants she has of her previous family life to help her do this.

Bernstein has chosen to have Jayne narrate and I liked the voice that she created for her. She is likeable and the things that she concerns herself with are very much those of a fifteen year old girl.

I liked the premise of the book and I thought that all of the scientific references were interesting rather than baffling and added an extra layer, prompting a philosophical discussion about Science vs Religion; why we are here; the interconnectedness of things and forces seen and unseen. There were moments where I was impressed by Bernstein’s writing and the essence of the story was good as I wanted to know how it all ended up for Jayne. However, there were times where I felt like the narrative was jerky, sometimes in the dialogue between characters and sometimes in Jayne’s narration where we move from place to place without smoothness.

Ultimately, my response to this novel is mixed: at times, I loved it; its message; the way it was written with Bernstein’s choice of description. However, it was not a totally smooth read; I can only liken it to going down a fast-flowing stream and occasionally bumping little rocks.

This review was first published on Reedsy Discovery where I was privileged to read it as an ARC.

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