Structured like a sonata, this heartbreaking debut novel hits all the right notes. Dominique is a high school junior from gritty Trenton, barely getting by. Ben is a musical prodigy from the Upper East Side, a rising star at a top conservatory. When Dom’s class is taken to hear a concert at Carnegie Hall, she spots Ben in the front row, playing violin like his life depends on it — and she is transfixed. Posing as an NYU student, Dom sneaks back to New York City to track him down. Soon, the two are desperately in love, each seeing something in the other to complete them. But Ben’s genius, which Dominique so admires, conceals his struggle with mental illness — and the challenges of her own life may make it impossible for her to save him from himself.
In this New York story with clear allusions to West Side Story, Ben, a violin prodigy studying at a music conservatory, and Dominique, a young woman fascinated by his talent, fall for each other hard and fast. After Dominique sees Ben play at Carnegie Hall during a class trip, she conspires with her best friend, Cass, to find a way to meet him. When her plan works, she tells him that she's an NYU student, though she's still in high school. Ben is smitten and puts up flyers around the city looking for her (because they hadn't exchanged numbers). Champion alternates between Ben and Dominique's perspectives, emphasizing the different city lives they lead. Ben's narrative unfolds in the high-stakes world of conservatory music; Dominique, meanwhile, lives in Trenton, N.J., where she helps her family make ends meet by working in her mother's laundromat. Champion, in her debut novel, effectively balances a whirlwind romance with sobering realities: it's not Dominique's dishonesty that derails the couple's happiness, but Ben's mental illness, which is sensitively unveiled over the course of the novel. Ages 14 up.