________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 7. . . .October 16, 2015


At Ease. (Orca Limelights).

Jeff Ross.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2015.
130 pp., pbk., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0800-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0801-0 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0802-7 (epub).

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Penny McGill.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


There was something wrong with my stomach. It felt like someone had sent an eviction notice there and the contents were getting restless and angry. There was a strange ringing in my ears. Like little bells accompanied by a high-pitched squeal.

I shook my head and almost dropped my bow, my fingers were so sweaty.

Iíd been forced to do things in front of people before. Presentations in school, for instance. Once, I had to hand out the awards at an assembly. I mean, I knew what nerves were. But Iíd never played the violin in front of anyone but Mr.Jorgensen and, occasionally, my parents.

I wasnít ready for this.


Will Neises has spent 10 years of his life playing the violin at home with the support of his family and instructor. His dedication and passion for the instrument have paid off, and he is rewarded by the chance to study at an acclaimed summer camp where world famous violinists perform, talented instructors provide one-on-one instruction and Julliard sends scouts to survey the crop of young musicians. Itís all part of a dream that Will didnít even know was possible, and, when he finds himself called upon to perform for the first time, the stage fright is overwhelming, and he runs away. Having the chance to be inside Willís head as he first experiences his attacks of panic and then learns to overcome them is part of what makes this book so persuasive.

     Author Jeff Ross brings the same care to describing Willís love of music as he does to Willís anxiety and fear of performing. The focus of this novel is on the weeks that Will spends at the summer camp, and it really is all about music for this 15-year-old. All of the students attending the camp are very serious about pursuing musical careers and talk about composers like Mozart and Paganini as easily as most teens would discuss popular music or sports. Some of the attendees are less welcoming than others, but Will manages to make friends with the other three in his quartet. As he gets to know them, he learns more about himself and how important playing the violin is to him. Once Will makes connections with the other students, he starts to feel more comfortable playing in a group with them, but when the instructors notice his musical gifts and ask him to perform for the larger group, his stage fright becomes overwhelming. The chapters of the novel which deal with his anxiety are rivetting, and Will endures a roller coaster of failures and miniature successes before he is able to perform for the larger group.

     At Ease is a short novel covering only the weeks that Will attends the summer camp, but the strengths Ė the development of strong friendships and the way he conquers his stage fright Ė make perfect sense because he is immersed in this unique situation where he is forced to perform regularly and see these kids all day in close quarters. This also allows the reader to get to know Will quickly so, when he succeeds in his performances and is offered the chance to audition at Julliard, it feels just as good as reading a book where a whole team pulls off a championship win. Jeff Ross has pulled together a novel that takes the reader on an exciting journey even though a large part of the action takes place inside a classrooms and rehearsal studios so it would appeal to fans of musical study and beyond.


Penny McGill is a library assistant with an enthusiastic reading habit at the Waterloo Public Library in Waterloo, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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