Last week on Instagram, Rainbow Rowell posted a photo of a book she had just finished and recommended. The cover of the book looked a bit ‘twee’ to me, and I filed it away in the back of my mind, a book for a rainy day. I went and I judged a book by its cover, instead of listening to the all-powerful words of Queen Rainbow. I’m sorry. I’ve learned my lesson.
The next day, I saw it randomly, unshelved, just sitting there at the library. It was a sign.
This book was fun. And mysterious. And suspenseful. And not realistic in the least, but I don’t care.
Like a cross between The Shining and The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Bellweather is a grand old resort in upstate New York that has seen better days. In the winter of 1997, its barely hanging on, basically surviving on the profits it makes from a high school musical convention that it hosts every November, bringing the teenaged musical stars from all over the state of New York together for a weekend of music, drinking, and sex.
But the hotel has a secret. That a horrible event took place there 15 years earlier…a bride who murdered her husband just moments after their wedding, and then took her own life. And it was all witnessed by young Minnie, who was there for her own sister’s horrible wedding.
Minnie was never the same. Obsessed with horror movies, she was never able to fit into society after that weekend. She lived with her parents, interacted with the general public as little as possible, and gorged herself on horror and junk food for the next 12 years. But in 1997, Minnie decided she needed to return to the Bellweather, and face her past.
Of course, the weekend that Minnie arrives is the same weekend as Statewide, New York’s festival for the best and brightest on the musical scene. Twins Alice and Rabbit (Bertram, but don’t call him that) Hatmaker are both there from their tiny, podunk town, along with their bizarre new music teacher, Mrs. Wilson. The Hatmakers are both looking forward to the weekend — Alice, because she only understands life when it takes place in music, and Rabbit, because he’s pretty sure he’s gay and wants to take this time away from home to come out to his sister and see what life is like outside of Ruby Falls.
Also among the cast of characters: a child flute prodigy and her controlling mother, a crazy Scottish conductor missing several fingers on his right hand, an elderly concierge who loves the hotel like its a part of his family, a douchy — but so cute — college acapella singer, and an adorable deaf dog.
A blizzard is expected that weekend, maybe the biggest snow storm New York has seen in years. And this year, Statewide just so happens to take place on the 15th anniversary weekend of that horrible murder/suicide many years before. What could possibly go wrong?
Kate Racculia has put together a page-turning mystery, sometimes very dark and sometimes funny, filled with colorful characters that I sometimes rooted for and sometimes pitied. There’s a lot of darkness here: murder, adultery, mental illness, sexual confusion, and child abuse, but then someone breaks out into song and dance, so that the darkness never overwhelms the story. The light and dark are very well balanced.
I’d never heard of Kate Racculia before. She’s written one other novel, which I’ll be sure to add to the list soon. Thank you Rainbow. I’m sorry I ever doubted you.