My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Amber Appleton’s life could be considered miserable. She is homeless and living in a bus. Abandoned by her father, Amber loves her mother, but her mother isn’t much of a parent. It’s a good thing she has her dog, Bobby Big Boy aka BBB aka Triple B aka B Thrice. Although she could easily be forgiven for sinking into depression, Amber has a spirit that makes her see the best in people and situations, most of the time. She will not accept charity, and she tries very hard to help any people she connects with in her serendipitous life.
Matthew Quick’s Sorta Like A Rock Star is appealing for many reasons, but what I like best is the way it captures how life feels to Amber Appleton. As Amber goes through her life, helping out wherever she can, her personal circumstances go from bad to worse. Matthew Quick does not allow Amber to be Pollyanna; she has moments when she questions her purpose: “At best, I’m just an interesting blip in people’s lives—an amusing footnote. Which is probably why my dad split and my mom can’t stay sober and all of her boyfriends ditch us after only a few months or so. Sometimes I wonder why I try at all. What’s the point?”
Quick also amusingly shows us how Amber builds something like family and community, even though she is separated and mostly disenfranchised from her own support network. As Amber fosters relationships with various groups and individuals, she names them, and as Sorta Like a Rock Star unfolds, we are right there with Amber, understanding exactly who she means when she refers to The KDFC (Korean Divas for Christ, a group of immigrants who Amber helps learn English through Motown songs), or The Five (a group of students from her school who focus on video games and marketing), or PJ (Private Jackson, a Vietnam vet and haiku poet befriended by Amber), or FC (Father Chee, a priest who tries to answer her religious and spiritual questions), or Prince Tony (the principal who she convinces to act in the best interests of his students), or JC (Jesus Christ, the religious figure she prays to and asks for help).
In the end, Amber Appleton shows us that we get to choose our responses to life’s challenges. When faced with the person who caused the most misery in her life, she gives him a haiku: “You may exist in / This world—but I exist too / And I will not yield.” I hope many young readers will pick up Sorta Like a Rock Star to be inspired by a girl who says, “We’re celebrating our freedom. We’re celebrating our right to be kids when everything is trying to take that away from us. It’s a choice, Ty. We can do whatever we want.”
Young readers looking for a break from sinister books should spend some time with Amber Appleton. The tone of Sorta Like a Rock Star is light and funny most of the time, although it has a couple of dark sections too. For students looking for a follow-up to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Sorta Like a Rock Star is a solid suggestion.