Play On by Marilynn Halas
(Summary taken from the back book cover) "In the final moments of Danny's life...everything comes into sharp focus. He won't miss being a soldier, he won't miss Afghanistan, and he won't miss the war. As he closes his eyes he knows what really matters: his family, his home, and his guitar. A few years later that guitar falls into the hands of a kid from New York named Dillon and it is just about the only thing that feels right in his life. The more he plays it the better he feels--until he starts to feel that someone is watching. His suspicion is confirmed when he hears a southern drawl coming from out of nowhere, teasing him about a bad G chord. Channeling the ghost of the guitar's former owner is weird enough, but there are other unsettling notes...fragments about death and remembering and warnings...and now Dillon doesn't know what to do or where to turn. Is Danny a friend or a threat? The only thing Dillon knows for sure is that the old guitar in his room is the key to everything. Dillon has no choice: he must play on."
The idea of this book is very creative. I haven't read anything else like it, so that alone earns some brownie points. I liked the characters, especially Danny and Dillon. The character development for Danny and Dillon is pretty good, along with their parents, but some of the other characters lack development. Thomas was a fun character, but I would have liked to know more about him. I also would have liked to know a little more about Rosa and Michael. There were some really good messages in this book as well. I liked that it talked about prioritizing your life and focusing on family and friend relationships. I liked that it talked about living each day to the best of your ability and enjoying life while you have it, and being thankful for what you have. I liked a lot of things about the book, but the premise of the book was a little too far-fetched for me. I enjoy fantasy and sci-fi, but this one was really hard for me to grasp onto. There were so many things that I just couldn't quite accept, and it definitely affected my view of the book. I liked that it was clean. I liked that it was unique, that it had some really good lessons, and I liked Danny and Dillon. This would be a great book for YA to read. I think they would enjoy it and would be able to get into the story.
Rating: PG-13 (Some war scenes and the death of a main character, some violence)
Recommendation: 12-13 years and up (I recommend that parents read it first as each child's sensitivities are different and parents know what their children will be ok with.)
I was able to interview Marilynn Halas, and here is our interview:
Monica: Why do you think there is a feeling in today's environment of hopelessness? Do children catch on to this from their parents?
Marilynn: I believe that each of us can experience a whole range of emotions from joy to sadness and from excited anticipation to hopelessness. Feelings of all kinds are normal and natural and so I think it is very important to acknowledge our children’s feelings, meet them where they are, and help our children develop the life skills they will need to move forward and grow.
Monica: What do you think parents can do to minimize or change this attitude in their children?
Marilynn: I think modeling is a huge part of parenting. Letting our children see how we deal with disappointment, sadness and even fear will teach them volumes about moving through their own emotions in a healthy way. It begins with acceptance of ourselves and our feelings. That acknowledgement reroutes our energy from judgment to empowerment. Then it is about taking the steps we need to neutralize the negative and accentuate the positive. It may be a good run, a drawing or journaling that helps us through, but it is all about building something new from the broken pieces. I choose to build through stories.
Monica: Why did you choose a guitar from Elvis Presley to build your book around? Are you an Elvis fan?
Marilynn: I liked the idea that the guitar was rumored to have been played by Elvis for two reasons. Firstly, it worked in my story to have a guitar that would have been preserved no matter what. Anything that might have belonged to the King of Rock and Roll, had a better than average chance of standing the test of time. Secondly, yes, I am a huge Elvis fan, I remember dancing around the living room to “Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear” when my children were babies and I still smile when I think about it.
Monica: What lesson or moral do you hope children get out of your book?
Marilynn: My dearest hope is that children will be entertained and empowered to never give up. To know that like Dillon and Danny, they have within themselves what they need to make it through life’s challenges. To know they can play on and share the music of their lives with a world in need of each person’s song.
Monica: Do you think early exposure to profanity and violence in literature and media affect children's behavior and attitudes?
Marilynn: I believe that literature and media can and do affect children’s behavior and attitudes. It is so important to surround our children with what will empower them and even nourish them and to be very wary of anything that diminishes what it is to be human. Expression that hopes to affect others is the goal of art and communication. Literature and media that deal with the difficult, but very real parts of life in a way that gives our children positive coping examples can be a very practical tool for building more compassionate communities.
Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.