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The Song Reader Paperback – May 1, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Downtown Press; First Edition edition (May 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743464451
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743464451
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,681,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Two sisters, Leeann and Mary Beth, have the debut novel The Song Reader firmly in their grip. Author Lisa Tucker seems almost entranced by her main characters, a teenager and her older sister whose mother is dead and father has disappeared. They've put together a cheery and eccentric life in their small midwestern hometown. Mary Beth--beautiful, empathetic and smart--practices an art she calls song reading. Clients come to her and tell her the songs that are stuck in their head, and she decodes the song to help them with their problems. Says her little sister Leeann, the novel's narrator: "She could take a customer who had all kinds of problems--poverty and family quarrels and lost love and even illness--and point her finger at the one thing that, if they found it and dealt with it, would give them the strength to handle all the rest." Leeann sees Mary Beth's song reading--and everything else about her sister--as admirable and glorious. But Mary Beth's gift leads her to a secret truth about a prominent neighbor, and the fragile structure of the girls' orphaned life comes tumbling down. Each secret seems to domino another until the sisters' whole complex emotional history is laid bare. The Song Reader can be a little willfully twee with its wacky characters and unlikely scenarios, but Tucker has so thoroughly imagined her protagonists' psychological workings that the book exerts an undeniable pull. --Claire Dederer

From Publishers Weekly

Tucker's assured debut novel is an achingly tender narrative about grief, love, madness and crippling family secrets. Preteen Leeann Norris introduces readers to her world: recently orphaned when her mother was killed in a car accident, she lives with her older sister, Mary Beth, who supports them by waiting tables and performing "song readings" for locals in their small Missouri town. Rather than reading palms to tell people's future, Mary Beth analyzes the songs stuck in their heads, explaining what the song fragments reveal about her clients' psyches. The plot device is fascinating, but what cleaves the reader to the page is the relationship between the two sisters-one determined to track down their long-missing father, the other equally resistant to looking at the past. When Mary Beth's song reading uncovers a local scandal, the community turns against her, and her resolve to help those around her crumbles. Leeann must become the stronger sister, and her quest to find their father finally succeeds, though not in the way she'd hoped. Tucker's dexterous portraits of the fragile family dynamics expose quirky and compelling characters. Her expertly sprung revelations will surprise readers. This intoxicating debut may remind them of Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle and Pat Conroy's Prince of Tides, but it's not lost in their shadows.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

This is one of the best books that I have ever read, and I strongly recommend it to anyone with a song in their soul.
It has never been done before (at least not in my house): reading a book from start 'til finish without being able to put it aside that is!
M. Sherman
This is one of those rare tales that appeals to both adults and teens because it speaks so directly to the human experience.
Jody Gehrman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Sandell on August 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
Every once in a while a book comes along that inspires us and moves us to tears all at the same time all the while making it hard for us to tear our eyes away. That's what this book did for me: It gave me the gift of an equally rare and wonderful reading experience that will resonate within me for a long, long time.
The Song Reader is the story of two sisters who are seemingly alone against the world. Mary Beth is the legal custodian for her younger sister, LeAnn. Mary Beth supports them both as a waitress and a Song Reader, which if you're anything like me and associate a certain year with what was playing on the radio, or your favorite song with a paticularly happy time in your life you will understand the concept of song reading. Through these girls' indescibably strong bond they somehow make it work, but their life certainly is not without struggle and pain. Mary Beth doesn't understand LeAnn and vice versa and it's the unanswered questions and years of bottled up anguish that [possibly may] tear this family apart.
I am a [fan] for a coming of age story, but this one is a cut above all the rest. LeAnn is struggling with her feelings and finding her place in the world. Both she and her Sister, Mary Beth are honest, hearwrenching characters that will take up residence in your heart and mind for a long time.
Lisa Tucker has out done herself on her first time out. She has important things to say and a very unique way of saying them. If she hasn't already, I'm sure she will soon become quite an important strong voice in cotemporary fiction. I am anxiously awaiting another wonderful novel by Ms. Tucker!!
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By L. Quido VINE VOICE on February 28, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
in praise of Lisa Tucker's first novel.
Tucker's story winds around the "gift" that big sister Mary Beth has been given in a small southern town. Mary Beth, a waitress raising her younger sister and a small adopted son, is a caretaker by nature. She discovers a unique talent, "reading people's lives". Unlike a fortune teller, MaryBeth talks to others about the songs that are important to them, and have been important to them throughout their lives. Mary Beth does "readings" and keeps charts on everyone who comes to her for help, and her advice, gained through an analysis of the lyrics that keep popping up in a client's head at odd moments. To Mary Beth ..."I have a calling in life" .. and her help is usually so on track that a large following in their little town relies on the premise that their own songs are not random, but rather that they have meaning just waiting to be uncovered; something that, it seems, only Mary Beth can do.
It's an interesting premise, and it is background music to the story told by LeeAnn, Mary's Beth's adolescent sister. To LeeAnn, the gift inspires others and puts their little family in the heart of the town....
"... wishing I could go back to when the music was like a spirit moving through our town, giving words to what we felt, connecting us all."
As the tale unfolds, parallel secrets about a prominent town citizen are uncovered through song reading, leading Mary Beth's reputation to tarnish, and her spirits to unravel. At the same time, secrets of their own family -- why their father disappeared, and what role their deceased mother played, are covered up by Mary Beth, who thinks that she is sheltering LeeAnn from knowledge that will hurt her.
Read more ›
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
I bought this book yesterday and finished it this morning, and the entire time, I was telling myself, slow down, make it last, but I just couldn't do it. The story is just too interesting! Mary Beth & Leeann pulled me into their lives and I felt like I was right there with them each step of the way. They are both such great characters! I rank them both right up there with Susie in The Lovely Bones. In a lot of ways The Song Reader reminds me of The Lovely Bones. For one, I found out about both of them in Seventeen magazine. . .but deeper in, they're both told from a girl's point of view, and told as the girl looks at the rest of her family. Also they both have a lot of sadness but also lots of hope. I can't imagine anybody not being touched by what these two sisters go through, and the love they have for each other.
It's a great story, and it also has the song reading!! A double treat when you pick up Tucker's novel. How did she think up something as unique as song reading? Everyone who hears about it tells me they have to get this book!
I highly recommend this book to every man, woman, and child (over 12 or 13, not for language or graphic sex but just to understand it) in America. Buy The Song Reader, I know you won't be disappointed!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
I didn't pick up The Song Reader expecting a deep novel. The cover seemed "hip girl," and the idea of song reading, interesting enough, but deep? Yes. Deep is the word, along with other words like original and even profound. The relationships between the people in The Song Reader are developed with a sensitivity and nuance and wisdom that is unusual in any novel, and astonishing in a first work.
Each character is utterly unique and yet as familiar as some part of ourselves. Leeann is the wise eye of the book, watching over her family, wishing she could protect them, and understanding them in ways they can't understand her. Henry, the father, is as odd as any fictional character I've encountered, and yet Tucker makes him make sense, quite an achievement. Mary Beth, the song reader and ostensible star of the book, a hero because of her ability to help others, is both larger than life and completely vulnerable. This is what makes the story so fascinating, watching what happens when a gifted woman like Mary Beth, a woman with a big heart and a big soul, collapses under the weight of her own charity--and knowing, tragically, that her greatness and her grief are so entwined that to starve one would be to starve them both.
This is a great first novel.
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More About the Author

Lisa Tucker is the author of six novels: The Song Reader, Shout Down the Moon, Once Upon a Day, The Cure for Modern Life, The Promised World, and The Winters in Bloom. Lisa grew up in Missouri. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, she went on to receive master's degrees in English and mathematics and was awarded fellowships in both fields. She has taught creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania, the Taos Writers' Conference and UCLA. Her short work has appeared in The New York Times, Seventeen, The Oxford American, and NPR's "Three Books." She currently lives in Philadelphia.

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