Review: The Color of Sound

The Color of Sound

by Emily Barth Isler

Carolrhoda Books (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2024

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Dena Bach

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Rosie is on strike. Until now her life has been all about music. As a 12-yr old violin prodigy she has played Carnegie Hall, but all she wants is a normal life. Born with synesthesia, she senses music not just as sound, but also as colors, smells, tastes, and textures. It’s hard for her to figure out who she is without music, so, against her parent’s wishes, she’s taking a break from playing. Usually, her summers are spent at a prestigious summer music camp, but with nothing else to do, Rosie ends up spending the summer at her grandparents’ home with her mother. 

The summer ahead does not feel promising to Rosie. She has just lost her best Julianne because of her music. She doesn’t know her grandparents very well - Grandpa Jack rarely talks, and ailing Grandma Florence has advanced Alzheimer’s. Rosie has no idea what to do with her time. As she explores the neighborhood around her grandparents' house, she meets and befriends a girl her age, Shanna, who Rosie realizes is somehow her own mother at age 12. Through her experiences with Shanna, with her grandfather, as well as with an improv group in the town library, Rosie grows, changing how she sees herself, her mother, her grandparents, and her music.

Rosie also begins to explore her Jewishness during her time at her grandparents’ house. She has been brought up as a secular Jew, knowing little about her heritage, and even less about her family. Through her mother’s younger self, Rosie learns about the lives of her grandparents during the Holocaust. She also hears about her grandparents’ pressure on her mother to have a bat mitzvah and participate in Jewish traditions, as they had been unable to do so. When her grandmother dies, Rosie finds meaning in the Jewish mourning rituals, comparing them to sheet music. Her awakening to the value that can be found in Judaism, though not central to the book, feels both genuine and integral to her story.

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Reviewer Dena Bach has a BFA in illustration from The Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and an MA/MFA in Children’s Literature and Writing for Children from Simmons University. Currently the illustration editor of The Shmooze, she has been a fine artist, illustrator, bookseller, bookkeeper, papermaker, calligrapher, and teacher of children from ages two to fourteen.