Rating: 5 Stars
~ ~ ~Review: "Sing for Me" was a novel that interested me from the moment that I read the description. The plot held the promise of depth and uniqueness and delivered both. Karen Halvorsen Schreck builds a poignant tale of love, acceptance, and purpose set in 1930s Chicago. It reads like a work of literature and ventures into subjects that are thought-provoking and emotionally charged. Halvorsen Schreck shows the shades of gray between the spectrum of perceived right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable. Her characters confront prejudices on a few different fronts and learn to depend on their faith to steer them in the right direction.
Rose Sorensen finds herself crossing boundaries - singing music that her church and family view as sinful and falling in love with an African American man. Traditionally in Christian fiction, characters who spend their time in smoky bars are either in need of reform or have strayed from the "right" path. Rose is neither; she remains strong in her faith and finds her purpose in a place as unlikely as a worldly jazz club. Looking out from the club stage one night, Rose realizes that despite the differences and faults of each person in the crowd, they are all "Children of God," and therefore equal. Rose conveys an important lesson of acceptance throughout her story. This lesson permeates the plot and gives hope despite the pain and hatred that are also present.
Rose's relationships are especially compelling. As a sister, I am drawn to the tender relationship Rose shares with her younger sister, Sophy. Halvorsen Schreck creates a tangible connection between Rose and Sophy, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Rose's first person point of view gives a clear perspective on her devotion to her disabled sister. There are numerous sweet moments between the sisters, from Sophy resting her head on Rose's lap during church to Rose taking Sophy on outings to the park. Each nuance of their interactions give the relationship life and depth. Despite Sophy's inability to communicate verbally, her character is brought to life through Rose; and instead of taking a background role, Sophy becomes and integral part of the story.
"Sing for Me" traverses new ground with a mixed race relationship during a time in history when prejudice and hatred run rampant. The budding romance between Rose and Theo, an African American musician, is fraught with challenges from the beginning. I enjoy the subtlety of the romance that gradually builds between the two characters. Physical connections take a backseat to emotional connections, and sometimes the looks that pass between Rose and Theo convey the strength of their bond even more than conversation. A mixed race love story set in the 1930s brings a new level of stress to the plot. At times it seems that the story has little hope of ending well. After all, how can a love endure when the world seems set against it? That question and the resulting tension kept drawing me in and even now leaves me wanting to know more of Rose's story.
Beautifully written with skillfully sculpted characters, "Sing for Me" is a novel that I will distinctly remember. It is a story of pain and triumph, love and acceptance, fear and strength. Karen Halvorsen Schreck engages readers' emotions with lessons that still ring true for the modern reader.
I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from Howard Books through Net Galley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
Summary from Howard Books: When a good church girl starts singing in a jazz club and falls for the music—as well as a handsome African American man—she struggles to reconcile her childhood faith with her newfound passions.
Raised in the Danish Baptist Church, Rose Sorensen knows it’s wrong to sing worldly songs. But Rose still yearns for those she hears on the radio—“Cheek to Cheek,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”—and sings them when no one is around.
One day, Rose’s cousin takes her to Calliope’s, a jazz club, where she discovers an exciting world she never knew existed. Here, blacks and whites mingle, brought together by their shared love of music. And though Rose worries it’s wrong—her parents already have a stable husband in mind for her—she can’t stop thinking about the African American pianist of the Chess Men, Theo Chastain. When Rose returns to the jazz club, she is offered the role of singer for the Chess Men. The job would provide money to care for her sister, Sophy, who has cerebral palsy—but at what cost?
As Rose gets to know Theo, their fledgling relationship faces prejudices she never imagined. And as she struggles to balance the dream world of Calliope’s with her cold, hard reality, she also wrestles with God’s call for her life. Can she be a jazz singer? Or will her faith suffer because of her worldly ways?
Set in Depression-era Chicago and rich in historical detail, Sing for Me is a beautiful, evocative story about finding real, unflinching love and embracing—at all costs—your calling.