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Sonata #1 for Riley Red    by Phoebe Stone order for
Sonata #1 for Riley Red
by Phoebe Stone
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Rachel, the thirteen-year-old protagonist of Sonata #1 for Riley Red has a major crush on Riley, the elder brother of her friend Desmona. Riley and Desmona's mother drowned in a pond (in which they now like to swim). Desmona regrets having been too small to help her mother. Instead, she now tries to help the world, taking up various causes such as animal rights, and gathering around her 'a good handful of friends deemed losers, leftovers, left-outs', including Rachel.

Rachel lives in an apartment building, of which her dad is janitor. Everyone in the building is a friend, in particular Mr. Krimms, who has 'little blue numbers tattooed on his forearm' and claims that music saved him. He taught Rachel to play the piano, and admired the compositions that she used to make. But she's been unable to find her music ever since a fateful day that changed her life, and turned her into someone who needed Desmona's help.

It's clear early on that there's something off in Rachel's home life. Her parents are seldom together and her mother keeps disappearing; Rachel wonders where she goes. The small circle of friends also includes Woolsey with his damaged dad, who's 'stuck on D-day'. Desmona herself is emotionally fragile; she and Riley are rich kids but with an often absent father and a cool stepmother.

After being suspended for an animal rights protest at school, Desmona leads the group into doing 'One wonderful great deed.' They decide to rescue a mistreated elephant. After getting started, they get stuck on what to do next. Surprisingly, it's Rachel, spurred by 'What A Little Moonlight Can Do', who takes decisive action. In the process, she comes to terms with her problems, so that a few 'good things come out of bad things.'

Sonata #1 for Riley Red is a nostalgic story about first, unrequited love, a touching friendship, and the passion to fix the world that most of us feel when we are young.

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