Wild Roses: Reviews « Deb Caletti
Deb Caletti
Deb Caletti

Wild Roses: Reviews

Publisher’s Weekly (starred review):
Caletti (The Queen of Everything) again plays with themes of passion and recklessness in this rich novel. Cassie never liked Dino Cavalli, a “world-renowned composer and violinist, a combination of talent virtually unheard of,” the man her mother married five days after divorcing her father. When he goes off anti-depression medication to compose new works, he becomes paranoid. Meanwhile, Cassie, who “had had enough of people of passion,” prefers astronomy to music. Yet she falls in love with Dino’s student, Ian, a violin prodigy with his own family secrets. Cassie’s first-person narrative will sweep up readers, and her exploration of the fine line between madness and genius alternates between humor and painful truth. (The book’s title comes from Van Gogh’s Wild Roses, one of the paintings he completed just before his suicide.) The author builds the tension well: as Dino’s concert approaches, Cassie’s father finds holes in Dino’s Italian childhood (memorialized in a biography); Dino thinks his former agent is stalking him; and Ian looks worn as his music school audition nears. Some characters may seem less credible (e.g., Ian’s stepbrother and Cassie’s eccentric grandmother) but only by contrast with a cast of otherwise full-blooded characters, including Cassie’s mother, who grows thin trying to control Dino’s insanity, but closes her eyes and smiles when he performs (“gone to wherever music and passion can take her”). In the end, readers will empathize with each trapped character, even Dino himself. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

School Library Journal (starred review):
Seventeen-year-old amateur astronomer Cassie Morgan wants a ‘normal’ life, but that possibility flew out the window three years earlier when her musician mother, divorced five days, married famous violinist Dino Cavalli. Living with arrogant Dino is like walking on eggshells, and the usually competent, clearheaded teen believes he has the unique ability to make her feel ‘incapable to the point of needing to be institutionalized.’ Any little thing sets him off, and the problem only gets worse when he stops taking his depression medication while he prepares for his huge comeback concert. When Ian Waters, a promising-and poverty-stricken-young violinist, shows up for lessons with the maestro, Cassie falls in love at first sight despite her belief that passion only brings about pain. Dino demands that the two stay away from one another to avoid compromising the young man’s focus, but that is impossible. And as Dino’s concert and Ian’s scholarship audition draw closer, even Cassie’s loving mother can’t protect her from Cavalli’s escalating bizarre and paranoid behavior. With its profound observations and vivid, if occasionally profane, language, this multifaceted and emotionally devastating novel will stick with readers.”

Seventeen-year-old Cassie has discovered that living with a musical genius sounds more glamorous than it is. Her stepfather, Dino Cavalli, may be a world-renowned violinist and composer (to the point where a musical classmate of Cassie’s follows her home just to bask in the Cavalli glow), but Cassie and her mother must work around his savage temper, his obsessive suspicions about his old manager, his sharp-tongued arrogance. Cassie evades trouble as best as she can until she falls for Dino’s gifted student, Ian; Dino forbids their relationship, but Cassie and Ian find it impossible to stay away from each other, even though Ian is preparing for an audition upon which his family’s future stands, and even though Dino is becoming increasingly, frighteningly erratic. As in The Queen Of Everything (BCCB 1/03), Caletti shows herself a master stylist, again bringing keen insight to a household where a teen tries to coexist with an adult losing control. Though the book at one point labels Dino disorder as depression, his actions are more dangerously manic and delusional than the term suggests, and Cassie’s narration speaks eloquently of the toll such disintegration takes on those laboring to keep loved ones functional. What’s really interesting here, though, isn’t Dino’s unraveling but Cassie’s life under its influence, especially her tender yet uncertain relationship with Ian and her suborning of his rebellion. Characterization, especially of Ian’s eccentric step-brother and his best buddy, who are Ian’s staunch supports, further enriches the story. Readers struggling with their own turmoil will find Cassie a kindred spirit, while others may begin to appreciate the comparative calm of their lives.

This novel is a close examination of the unraveling of a family affected by both genius and paranoia. The unraveling is subtle, occurring in bits and pieces, as a story in real life would unfold. Cassie lives with her mother and her stepfather, the genius violinist Dino Cavalli. Cassie has her concerns about Dino, but it is not until the pressure to create something new brings out the worst in him that Cassie understands the depth of his problems. Meanwhile she is learning to open up and let love into her life, with disastrous consequences. Ultimately Cassie learns that she cannot control her emotions and that risks are worth taking.

Caletti crafts a fine story of a girl finding her way while coping with her parents divorce, her own fears, and an unstable home. The slow unfolding of Dino’s paranoia, the highs and lows of Cassie’s relationship with Ian, and the uncovering of secrets echoes the slow unfolding of life. It builds tension, resolves conflicts in a real-life sloppy manner in which the reader’s heart knows that the story continues, and yet leaves the reader satisfied that the characters one has grown to love – or at least empathize with such as Dino – will persevere. Furthermore Cassie has an eye on the natural world around her and the voice to bring a moment alive within a setting that paints a vivid picture in the mind’s eye. Caletti’s ability to create a story improves with each work.
– Mary Ann Harlan

Books in Canada:
Living with a world renowned musical genius on Seabrook Island, Washington, isn’t always fun, especially for 17-year-old Cassie Morgan, whose cellist mother has dumped the dull but steadying company of her accountant father for the volatility of a life with violinist and composer Dino Cavalli. Dino’s official biography trumpets his boot-strap rise from the poverty-stricken obscurity of a small town in Italy to the riches and applause of the world’s concert stages. But as Cassie describes him, he has self- destructively turned himself into the ticking time bomb of a psychotic whose “perfection could shatter your joy like a bullet through a stained glass window.”

In Wild Roses, author Deb Caletti, whose two previous books have won national applause, presents an insightful story of a sensitive but sometimes irreverent, potty- mouthed teenager roller-coastering through a series of emotional relationships with her estranged family members, a bevy of ditzy school friends, and her idealized boyfriend, Ian, a struggling violinist with personal and family demons of his own to deal with. Caletti’s story is grippingly told as she orchestrates Cassie, her mom, dad, Ian and step- dad, Dino, towards the crescendo of a public performance where Dino’s audience and Caletti’s readers get more than they expected. Dino flips out and the true details of his past life begin to emerge. As good as she is at managing plot lines and tension, Caletti is equally adept at depicting realistic characters. Dino’s rages quite literally leap off the page and his manic fixation on his former business manager, William Tiero, whom he sees behind trees and in concert hall seats, is eerily frightening (especially since Tiero is never there). Cassie’s distrust of Dino, her dedication to her dad, her love for her mom and her on-again, off-again infatuation with Ian are all very believable. And so is she as “not a Hallmark card, ooh-ah romance, Valentine-y love kind of person” attempting to “minimize the impact of divorce.” She finds solace in reading the stars with her telescope or caustically dissing “the cheerleaders flashing their asses at us during the afternoon assembly.” A couple of “metaphysical motorcyclists”, bikers without bikes, who believe in the “Wisdom of Your Inner Voice”, cross Cassie’s path sometimes as agents of comic relief and at one time as agents for a disastrous accident that imperils Ian’s career and threatens to end the teenagers’ romance. Even Ian’s dog, Rocket, and Cassie’s mutt, Dog William, not to be confused with the elusive Manager William, take on lives of their own. Like Holden Caulfield, literary character Cassie Morgan is definitely her own person. She has a unique take on the aftermath of divorce, on a teenager’s coming of age in today’s world, and on appreciating the fine line separating a genius from a nut case. And it’s easy to forecast that because of her, this delightfully told story and its marvellous cast of characters is destined to bring author Caletti the kind of acclaim she has received for her earlier books.
– M. Wayne Cunningham

Caletti probes the links between madness and artistic genius, passion and stability. Cassie’s famous violinist/composer stepfather Dino is “both crazy and a genius,” a person the politically correct might call “joy-impaired,” “excessively imaginative,” “abundantly security conscious” or “emotionally challenged,” but who Cassie sees as “hugely depressed,” “delusional” and “paranoid.” Now, with the looming pressure of an impending concert, he’s getting more out of control every day. The situation is exacerbated when against Dino’s wishes, Cassie begins seeing his student, an impoverished but incredibly talented violin prodigy who, though ambivalent about a music career, is working furiously to prepare for an audition. At times, the narrative seems to lose focus or drag, and the madness-genius connection fails to convince. Still, Caletti’s perceptions on divorce are crystalline, the story is populated with delightfully oddball yet solidly real characters and shot full of genuine wit, and readers will support her likable protagonist’s quest to find the balance she needs. (Fiction. 12+)

Book Club Magazine:
With her third book for young adults, Caletti hits the “wow” factor. Never one to shy away from heavy subjects—and always aware that her young adult readers can handle them—Caletti tackles mental illness.

Cassie lives with her mother and step-father, the great violinist and composer Dino Cavalli. Dino is a pretentious jerk, but when he goes off his medication to complete a new composition, he starts to slide off the deep end. Meanwhile, Cassie’s dad, unable to move on since the divorce four years ago, has revealing information on Dino. Cassie, closed off from love after watching her parents’ marriage fail, meets Ian, who is applying to the illustrious Curtis Institute of Music halfway across the country. Should she fall in love if he’s going to leave? When Cassie lets herself go, something horrible happens that makes her think she was right in not wanting to get involved.

Caletti does a wonderful job building up Dino’s destructive behavior and showing how his paranoia rubs off on his family. She writes about the beauty and power of music, and she does it without pretension. It’s always refreshing to read a book that one can enjoy—and learn from—as a teenager or an adult. Kudos to Caletti for constantly challenging the genre.

Having a stepfather is hard. Having a famous and crazy stepfather is harder. Having Dino Cavalli, world-renown violinist and composer, as your stepfather is nearly impossible. This is the challenge that seventeen-year-old Cassie Morgan faces.

Cassie describes Dino as “both crazy and a genius.” More specifically, he is “joy-impaired (hugely depressed), excessively imaginative (delusional), abundantly security conscious (paranoid as hell) or emotionally challenged (wacko).”

A good deal of Dino’s paranoia is surrounded by his enemy and former agent, William Tiero. Dino hates Tiero so much that he bought the ugliest dog he could find and named it William. He liked to yell at and control the dog (“Get your nose out of the garbage, William!”). Things are starting to get far worse than naming a pet after his enemy. Now Dino thinks that William Tiero (the real one, not the dog) is out to get him. He swears that Tiero is stalking and spying on him. The paranoia only increases as Dino prepares for an important concert that will reveal new songs for the first time in years.

As Dino’s behavior gets more erratic, Cassie becomes more frightened. It doesn’t help that her mother is oblivious to Dino’s behavior. Not to mention, her father is obviously still in love with her mother and has revealed that he is investigating Dino’s background because he believes that something is not quite right.

In the midst of all the craziness of Cassie’s home life, she finds herself falling in love at the impossibly worst time. Ian Walters is Dino’s young student who is working towards winning a scholarship to a fancy music school. Even though Cassie knows that Ian has to focus on his music, she finds that her heart has a mind of its own.

WILD ROSES is a moving novel that is beautifully crafted. Deb Caletti has a way with words like her characters have with music. She reaches deep into the souls of her characters and stirs up emotions that readers will revel in. Caletti has already proven herself as a wonderful wordsmith with her past novels, and WILD ROSES doesn’t let us down.
– Kristi Olson

The author of The Queen of Everything and Honey, Baby, Sweetheart keeps up her funny, smart banter in this story of an impossible stepfather. The narrator is a 17-year-old named Cassie, who has watched her mother break up her family because of her devotion to a neurotic but genius violinist/composer. For several years, Cassie has been going back and forth between her father’s home and her mother’s. She loves her mother dearly and can’t understand how she can put up with the nearly constant hysterics, paranoia, and verbal abuse emanating from her new husband, Cassie’s stepfather. This is all relayed in a tragic-comic voice, with wonderful metaphors tumbling out of Cassie’s mind. Cassie’s mother rationalizes all by seeing her new husband as a tortured genius, who is mentally ill but capable of producing incredible beauty.

Enter Ian, a gifted music student who must succeed in an audition to be admitted to a top music school. Cassie’s stepfather takes Ian on as a student and that’s how the two young people meet; however, the attraction they immediately feel for one another has to be beaten down and ignored because of Ian’s upcoming competition and because the stepfather absolutely forbids their romance as a distraction Ian can’t afford. Nothing like forbidden love to make a good story line! Entertaining without being shallow, this will have strong appeal as an outrageous family story. There is some swearing here and there, totally appropriate to the occasions described.
-Claire Rosser, KLIATT

Gr. 7-10. Caletti explores relationship between genius and madness in her third novel set in the Pacific Northwest. Cassie is the stepdaughter of violin virtuoso Dino Cavalli. Wild Roses is the name of the van Gogh painting that hangs over Dino’s desk, and like the painter, Dino is mentally ill. Dino controls his delusions with medication, but as an anticipated comeback concert approaches, he stops taking it. Always bullying and brutish, Dino grows increasingly paranoid, but Cassie tries to balance her anger toward her father with her growing affection for his talented student, Ian. When tragedy strikes at the concert, Cassie discovers the relationship between passion and insanity, and comes to realize how her mother could love someone like Dino. Caletti’s hyperbolic, endless-sentence style occasionally overwhelms her otherwise compelling story, but the sincerity of her message shines through in Cassie’s descriptions of other historically troubled artists, her parents’ painful divorce, and her own new romance. A good selection for mother-daughter book clubs.
-Jennifer Hubert
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

The Olympian – The Bookmonger:
Deb Caletti is a smart, funny Issaquah author whose Web site, www.debcaletti.com, makes good reading in and of itself, never mind her highly praised debut book “Queen of Everything” or “Honey, Baby, Sweetheart,” which was a National Book Award finalist.

“Wild Roses” is Caletti’s latest offering. This is the story of 17-year-old Cassie Logan, an amateur astronomer. She’d be the first to tell you that the stars in her eyes have nothing to do with her stepfather, who is a world-renowned violinist/composer. Frankly, Cassie thinks he’s a pain to live with, for Dino Cavalli’s genius is both stoked and bedeviled by mental illness.

It’s gotten worse since Dino has received a commission to compose three new works for the Seattle Symphony. He has stopped taking his medication in order to unfetter his inspiration — and now he is succumbing to violent bouts of paranoia.

In an effort to help ground Dino, his manager and Cassie’s mom arrange to have Dino teach a brilliant teen violinist, Ian Waters. They couldn’t have anticipated that there would be instant chemistry between Cassie and Ian, a complication that only further provokes Dino’s mania.

Cassie is a wonderful heroine — smart and smart-alecky, but sensitive, too. She is tired of keeping Dino’s illness hidden from the outside world, and she is frightened by his unpredictable behavior. She has to grapple with the allegiance she feels to each of her biological parents, and now she has to cope with the delicious but disorienting problems of a romance of her own.

With fearlessness, acuity, a smidgen of profanity and dollops of laugh-out-loud humor, Caletti tackles coming of age, love, heartbreak, mental illness, vocational passions and life’s general messiness. This is a grandly satisfying book.
-The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Northwest. Check out her Web site at www.bookmonger.net.