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Book Review: "Serenade" is a discordant symphony

I’m all for cheesy YA novels–I grew up on “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” and “City of Bones,” so a part of me loves to indulge my teenage self. Morgan Shamy’s debut paranormal fantasy novel “Serenade” is a guilty pleasure that had me in disbelief of my indulging tendencies by the end.

Like any other YA heroine, November Huntington’s life is upended when she’s sent away to live with distant family and attend a music school in the middle of nowhere. Her main issue isn’t the bullying from her peers or her family’s secrets; she’s a competitive rock climber with not a single musical bone in her body.

But this school is more than it seems, and after a student turns up dead–the same way her parents were killed–November begins to question what’s really happening at the school. November must stop the murderer and solve her parent’s murder–or find herself dead.

“Serenade” is a dark academia, chandelier-obsessed, dancing-in-a-ballroom dream with an exciting magic system woven into the world. As a former musician, the music-based magic system was intriguing, and I appreciated Shamy’s music references as well as using the terminology correctly. Despite this, the details of the magic system and world of “Serenade” were confusing to keep track of and nonsensical–especially regarding the dark spirit lore.

As the norm with YA novels, November personifies the “I’m not like other girls” trope to unimaginable heights with her constant complaining and piss-poor attitude. Her teenage melodramatics are vaguely relatable yet cliché when paired with the conflict in “Serenade.” Shamy does redeem November a little bit with an accurate representation of mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder and depression, a refreshing change in the YA genre.

The rest of the ensemble is equally cliché and melodramatic. Furthermore, the love triangle between November, Cam, and Victor was the wildest curveball in those last few chapters. I can’t shake the feeling that it reminds me of an infamous love triangle in Cassandra Clare’s “City of Bones” (if you know, you KNOW).

Despite a confusing plot, melodramatic characters, and nonsensical details, I couldn’t put “Serenade” down. Now I want to finish the trilogy more than anything just to see where this goes.

A wild ride of a novel with an exciting concept, “Serenade” had the potential to be a dark, academia-inspired, paranormal novel but lacked the punch. I sincerely hope November experiences some character growth and there’s a further explanation of the world and magic system.

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