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Befiddled    by Pedro de Alcantara order for
by Pedro de Alcantara
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2005 (2005)
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

At thirteen years of age, Becky Cohen feels awkward about her unruly hair, her inexpensive clothes, and action on the volleyball court, but she has a whopping passion for her music - the fiddle (violin). She takes group lessons from Mrs. Stark at the 'Y' with a rental instrument, as private lessons at the Sedgwick School for the Performing Arts are expensive. Becky gets shaky and sweaty when she plays for Mrs. Stark, and her music becomes awkward with this instructor who comes down on her hard. Aside from all this, Becky fears that she'll forget the smell, the voice, and personality of her loving, deceased father.

It isn't just Mrs. Stark, who makes her unhappy but also a certain teacher, and classmates who shun her in classrooms and cafeteria. Added is pressure from her Mom about 'how hard she has to work at the Deli to make ends meet' and to pay for group lessons and fiddle rental. Mom demands, 'can't you become a sports player, or a business woman instead of the fiddle'? Younger brother Benjy is a supportive gem, plus he is very smart. While Becky aspires to become a brilliant violinist (dreams of a duet with cellist Yo Yo Ma), Benjy plans to become a journalist - he writes and publishes his own newsletter, The Splinter, whose motto is 'Try Stepping On Us'.

Becky's friend Mr. Freeman, the apartment building's new handyman, advises that 'first Becky must learn to overcome her fear and play what's in her heart.' He teaches Becky about music (he plays classical on his harmonica), good haircuts, trust in herself, and friendship. He encourages Becky to enter the Aaron Copland Scholarship competition for entry into the Sedgwick School for the Performing Arts. Becky tries to control her nerves, shaking and sweating and willing her 'fingers to obey / Fiddle - Bow, obey!' Becky forms a mutual bond with Mr. Freeman, and is also supported by Benji and a young man named Damien.

Befiddled is Pedro de Alcantara's debut novel. The author is a Brazilian musician living in Paris, who travels the world teaching the Alexander Technique ('a method that improves habits of movement and thought in everyday activities'). He writes with sensual sensitivity.

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