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This Is What It Feels Like

Review

This Is What It Feels Like

Sun City is a small annual music competition that offers a cash prize and small-town fame to the band that wins. Or, that’s what it was. Now, Sun City has upped the prizes; $15,000 and the chance to open for Glory Alabama, the local band that made it big. But what does it matter when you’re without a band?

Dia, Hanna and Jules were the members of Fairground, an amazingly talented band. They used to be a lot of things. The girls used to be friends, they used to be naive, they used to feel invincible. But that all quickly vanished after a death, drunken tirades and a toxic relationship.

Now they’re 18 and the world has chewed them up and spit them out. Dia is a young, single mom. Jules worries with the thought that she’ll never be good enough for a girl to love. As for Hanna, she’s still focused on her sobriety even though it’s been over a year since her last incident. Jules and Dia still look out for each other, but Hanna was too much of a risk. She was cut out of their lives and hasn’t spoken to them in two years.

"THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE is a warrior cry and a ballad. It aches and breathes and radiates pure euphoria….From reading the first pages, I knew this was going to be a special book."

Working jobs they feel no passion for was never in the plan, it’s not in anyone’s plan. But they’re no longer just kids with a dream, they’re girls who had to grow up; their reality is buying diapers and paying off medical bills --- $15,000 would sure help that a lot. And playing for the band that inspired them to make music in the first place is no pity prize either…looks like they need to get the band back together.

These girls have been dealt some rough cards in the past, but it’s now that matters. It’s now that could change it all, for better or worse. But they’re willing to fight regardless. They’re ready to fight for their passions, for what looks like could b be true love, their art, and for that glorious feeling of invincibility they so long ago lost.

THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE is a warrior cry and a ballad. It aches and breathes and radiates pure euphoria. Remember the feeling you felt when you first heard your favorite band? When you listened to their discography and the air felt electric? How the music enveloped you in a sweet, gauzy haze while simultaneously awakening you, making you feel and see with more clarity than ever before? The purpose, thrill and excitement it instilled within you? Pandemonium crashing with pure bliss --- this is what THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE is, both in content and in what it elicits from the reader.

From reading the first pages, I knew this was going to be a special book. From the get-go, Barrow managed to make me feel privy to all the experiences I’ve not had; like the thrill and thrum of playing a small gig. But she also dug up feelings I thought I’d long ago forgotten of attending a show with an atmosphere that feels electric, urgent and powerful. Of being a part of something bigger than just one’s self, of becoming an unstoppable force. Barrow’s talent is evident from page one and remains in excess through the entirety of the novel.

Barrow’s decision to have a constant, quick rotation of the character's narration keeps the book from ever feeling stagnant and makes reading feel almost compulsive. Normally, I find when characters have short POV chapters, the book is easier to put down as I can hardly connect with the characters or the story. But in this instance, it worked like magic. Hanna and Dia’s lives can be pretty heavy, not to mention the drama around the competition. So, needless to say, it was nice to break up the heaviness with Jules’ and an extra characters POV which was usually a bit lighter. I think what is so wonderful about THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE is that it’s heavy in that it deals with serious issues, but it is also soft; it can still make you smile and feel light.

While the book is soft, I think it’s important to clarify that it is in no way something one could or should mistake for fluff. Barrow brings up real, difficult issues like teen alcoholism, death, teen pregnancy and mental health. But at its heart, this novel is all about passion and friendship and love. You can tell Barrow was thinking of those three things throughout the novel, with every keystroke. The care she put into each character and their interactions is palpable.

While I felt that Barrow had the tendency to tell rather than show, something I’m not overly fond of, it was easily overlooked because she still had the ability to make the reader feel and make the characters shine. The strength of the novel lies in the characters Barrow has created.

Dia, Jules and Hanna are real girls. Girls with flaws and passion. Girls with jobs, stretchmarks, self-doubt and the want for something bigger. That’s what makes them so irresistible, the fact that they’re multifaceted and not just another cliché. Barrow has written strong, brave young women. They’re not strong because they could kick 20 MMA fighter’s butts at once. They’re not brave because they try to save the whole world because they’re some Chosen One. No, these girls are strong and brave because they fight for every inch they gain despite the adversities they face. They save themselves, and they fight for their friendships, for their passions. They fight and hope and believe even when that means the possibility of letting in heartache, when that could mean losing. They still give their all and never apologize for that. They’re the type of strong that gets overlooked too often. Girls caring and loving, supporting and lifting up other girls. These are the characters we need to see more and I’m so glad that Barrow has shared these girls with the world.

THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE is a book that would be the perfect read for summer, but it’s a wonderful piece of sunshine during these winter months as well. It’s at times honey-sweet and enchanting, at times devastating and nerve-inducing. The book features diverse characters with good representation and strong leads. Not to mention it has an absolutely gorgeous cover. I don’t know what else to say other than that this book simply rocks and should be at the top of your TBR list.

Reviewed by Olivia W., Teen Board Member on December 18, 2018

This Is What It Feels Like
by Rebecca Barrow