Reviewed by Meghan Vermeer
A baby changes everything. I’ve heard this said so many times throughout my life, and I never understood until I became a mother myself. Truly, a baby changes everything. In Perfect Tunes, author Emily Gould captures what it’s like to become a mother and to have to set aside your hopes and dreams to do what is best for your child. Even the biggest dreams, like becoming a musician, often get put on hold when a child becomes the priority.
Perfect Tunes follows the life of Laura, an aspiring musician who leaves her life in Ohio to pursue her dreams in New York. With the help of her roommate Callie, Laura tries to make her home in New York, but she finds that she struggles to fit in and find the musical inspiration that she had hoped for in the city. Then, the classic boy meets girl story happens; Laura meets an almost-successful musician Dylan, and she is hooked. Fortunately, the novel doesn’t end there, and readers are taken through the rest of Laura’s twenties and thirties. After a child is introduced into the picture, Laura’s struggle to become a professional musician often gets put on hold in order to prioritize the people, including the child, that she loves.
One of the major themes in the novel is definitely parental sacrifice. Parents, specifically mothers in the case of the novel, give up so much for their children. Laura prioritizes her daughter over becoming a successful musician. She can’t justify spending time away from her daughter to make her own dreams come true. As a mother myself, I can relate to the way the Laura devotes her entire life to her daughter. Somehow, the things that I have wanted for myself in the past aren’t as important anymore, and Laura feels the same way. As her daughter grows older, Laura battles with the desire for music that has never gone away. At what point in a child’s life does a mother deserve a chance to pursue her dreams? Gould tackles this question as the novel progresses.
Another obvious theme is resilience. We’ve all heard the stories of aspiring musicians: money can be pretty tight, and failures are common. Perfect Tunes is no different. Laura constantly struggles with money and often finds herself in less-than-stellar situations, but she persists. One of the benefits of having a novel follow the same character throughout life is that readers can see this persistence.
I appreciated that this book told the life story of one person. Rather than focusing on one portion, readers get to see how the main character changes and grows over time—and she definitely does! However, I did find myself wishing that Gould would have focused on one section of Laura’s life. Some of the events of the novel felt rushed because there was so much life to cover in so few pages. If this had been a longer novel, or if only one section of Laura’s life was covered, it might have been easier to delve deeper into some of the major issues and events, satisfying the reader’s itch for more information.
I recommend this book to those who have a similar story, specifically a parent who has given up everything for their child. While much of the novel focuses on Laura’s music, the writing makes the music accessible to those who might not know as much about the music side of the story. What is more impactful is the story of Laura’s sacrifice, whether intentional or not.
I don’t often read books like Perfect Tunes, but one that comes to mind is Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Both novels follow a main character throughout her life. Readers see the main character struggle and begin to find some sense of normalcy and success as she grows older. If you liked the ability to watch a character grow, hit up Orphan Train! This novel follows more than one main character, and it is a little longer, which means more issues are covered more deeply.
Overall, this was a decent novel. Perfect Tunes opened my eyes to more of the sacrifices that mothers make, even though I myself have made sacrifices for my children. Everyone has a different story, and it was nice to read the life story of another mother.