Each time he left the lobby, passing under the hotel’s marquee and facing Lincoln Center, in the middle of New York City, he felt even less at home. He climbed the broad steps to the Lincoln Center plaza and was surrounded by towering white stone columns that made him think of ancient stadiums—Olympians competing for Zeus’s pleasure and gladiators battling one another for survival. At the far side of the square stood the opera hall. This was the home of the Met, the greatest opera company in the country."
Those are the opening lines of the book. It sounds cliché, but this troubled youth's climb from a broken home across from a crack house to become an opera star with the New York Metropolitan Opera is real. It's a non-fiction story you wouldn't believe if you found it in the fiction section.
This year's pick for "Richardson Reads One Book" is Daniel Bergner's non-fiction work, "Sing for Your Life." It's an implausible rags-to-riches story. A boy from a broken home, with the improbable name of Ryan Speedo Green, threatens to kill his mother, serves time locked in seclusion cells in juvenile detention, discovers singing by accident, wins an audition contest with the New York Metropolitan Opera despite not being able to read music or even fake singing with an Italian, German, or French accent, and becomes a world-renowned opera star.
The book began as a magazine profile expanded into a book that became a New York Times bestseller. It kind of shows. It feels padded in parts. It feels patched together in the entirely wrong order. I don't think my synopsis above contains any spoilers because all of that is spelled out in the first few chapters. The rest of the book fills in details.
Those details, however, make this an inspiring book. There are people along the way that make a huge difference in Ryan's life. The teacher who believed in him. The juvenile detention worker who gave him a break now and then. The opera judge who passed him on to the next round despite his obvious shortcomings. Each step along the way, Ryan Speedo Green was on the edge of failure. But we know he succeeds, and not just because of benefactors along the way. Ryan Speedo Green tells his own personal story of making something of himself, of hitting bottom in that seclusion cell and vowing never to return...until he does return a decade later to try to inspire another generation of troubled youths to make something of themselves, too.
In short, although the telling of the story is merely adequate, the story itself is inspiring. It would make a fine addition to any high school reading list.
"Sing for Your Life" is available in Kindle format from the Richardson Public Library. :-)
Prior selections for "Richardson Reads One Book":