Four very different teenagers come together as the band Screaming Divas in this young adult novel that explores the topics of friendship, family and coming to terms with who you are as you verge on adulthood, all through the lens of music.
Trudy is estranged from her serial matrimonialist mother. After a bout in juvenile detention she is released to her one-time musician-turned-college professor father. After getting caught with one of his students, she alienates both her father and her boyfriend, and ends up living on her own.
Harumi is a child violin prodigy with a heightened level of traditional Japanese parental pressure that cracks her. This crushes her parents’ dreams and destroys her relationship with them.
Cassie survived a car accident that killed her alcoholic mother, albeit with disfiguring scars on her beautiful features that serve as a constant reminder of the incident. She lives with her wealthy father and his new trophy wife. She is a popular girl, but the real Cassie is hidden far beneath.
Esther, a former childhood friend of Harumi’s, has the most conventional family setup, but is the most reserved and the most confused about who she is and where she falls sexually.
Cassie meets Harumi at a high school party where Harumi is playing bass. Responding to a flyer Trudy created to recruit members for her band (the story takes place in the ’80s, so Craigslist posts aren’t an option), Cassie brings Harumi into the equation. Secretly obsessed with Cassie, Esther steps in as the drummer for the band to be closer to her. The Screaming Divas are complete.
The foursome’s angst is in full-effect in the songwriting, which draws from the pain and alienation each of them is feeling. Trudy is looking for acceptance from the audience, from other musicians, from lovers in order to make up for what her parents didn’t give her. Cassie is looking to bury the pain of survival through indiscriminate sex and increasingly destructive drug use. Harumi is looking to become a “normal” teenager under the tutelage of her bandmates. And Esther is looking to come to terms with her sexuality. She has this in common with all the Divas, as each of them experiments and overlaps between genders (not to mention between partners). Like all bands since the dawn of time, these overlaps are what break this group of girls who were broken to begin with.
Author Suzanne Kamata’s voice rings true from her own experiences at sticky carpet venues in her native South Carolina (where the story takes place)—not to mention her Japanese background. While the setting is an unconventional element for a young adult novel, the coming-of-age story that is told is universal. In fact, the environment of Screaming Divas gives it a freedom that allows the gritty story to explore the darker undertones of teenage years struggling to come to terms with painful childhoods. The story goes into touchy areas, but in the context of music, it is done so in a visceral way. The running comparisons to Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants are not as far-fetched as they might seem at first glance with music playing the part of the pants, both bringing the Screaming Divas together and tearing them apart.