Summary: Living for six years with the guilt of a terrible secret only his brother knows, Bret is now an eighteen year-old young man haunted by the past. Hanging onto his father’s opinions about his gift for music, Bret is determined to get a practical education as a doctor. But as a musical savant with genius level intelligence, he can’t help but be drawn to the music department at his university. It is there that he meets Nicole, a cellist endeavouring to join the Calgary Symphony Orchestra, and finds a safe place with her and her family to confront his memories and move into a future that supports his dreams.
Number of Pages: 380
Age Range: 17-18
Review: In a story about secret shames and self-defeating attitudes, my favourite part about Bret’s tale was reading about his masterful command of music. The nickname of Mozart was apt, because he seemed to be able to feel music in the air and could play any instrument he picked up, regardless of whether he had played it before or not. Bret could even play more than one instrument at once, and had such an innate understanding of music that he could verbalize his talents effectively, teaching others to be better musicians in the process.
But holding back this monumental gift is the voice of Bret’s father. Convinced singing and being a musician, composer or conductor isn’t practical, he discourages his son at every turn, trying to guide him into a more lucrative profession. And when Bret’s father dies when Bret is only 12 years old, all of that disapproval is locked into him, along with a perceived secret that his brother Drake proceeds to exploit to his benefit.
Beyond the Precipice details one young man’s journey to deal with his demons, and this happens because of the support he receives from his new friend Nicole and her family. They seem to simply take him in as one of their own, and loved him unconditionally even when the truth of his secrets came out. Kern, Nicole’s dad, is almost like a fairy godmother to Bret, providing him with the financial stability he needs to change programs at school, and a place to live. Bret blossoms with their love and attention, also forming a stable relationship with Nicole.
The parts about music were breath-taking, and I was happy that Bret’s life had taken a turn that would allow him to embrace what he is meant to do. Described as a psychological read, the story contains a powerful message about learning to trust others despite being hurt in the past. It’s also a cautionary tale about how receptive children are to their parents’ attitudes and behaviours.
In that sense, it’s a mature read for older teens. The story is also a bit unusual because it contains footnotes explaining Canadian terms like ‘tuque’ and our units of measurement. I found this odd because I’ve always been of the opinion that if I don’t understand a term in a book I should just look it up in another book, but I guess Blaskovic’s publishers did not feel the same. Unfortunately this just serves to draw attention to the ‘Canadian’ bits and make the reader more aware it is directed toward an audience outside Canada. It took me some time to get used to, especially when terms like ‘black ice’ were defined. But I did end up thinking about aspects of our culture that I had never given a second thought to.
“‘Think of it not as you playing the music,’ Bret said, ‘but as the music playing you.’
Colin put the mouthpiece to his lips, adjusted it. His silhouetted shoulders rose and fell. His breath was the only whisper in the room. A shaft of moonlight fell in from the space between the curtains, and was warmed by the yellow brass when it reflected.
The sound came, resolute, dancing on an unseen stage.
Bret’s mind dubbed in the rest of the band, and the trumpet frolicked with the other instruments, until they parted, and the solo began. Powerful and yet sensitive, brave as a trailblazer; exploring, pondering, hesitating pensively and then pressing on to the finish, there to rejoin the collective in a crescendo finale.
Colin rested the trumpet in his lap. For a few moments, no one moved.
‘Did you notice?’ Bret’s voice broke the stillness like a stone hitting the glassy surface of the water.
Colin’s silence was answer enough.” – Bret coaching Colin on how to get a trumpet solo at school from Beyond the Precipice by Eve A. Blaskovic, page 171
“Nature was writing the song for him. All he had to do was listen. In the thunder: the electric drums. In the wind: the woodwind harmony. In the rain: a piano melody. Then electric guitar and synthesizer, rain stick and his own voice – pressurized, building into an explosion of instrumental release, pellets of hail crashing into his body, the forces of nature thrashing about before peaceably fading, until only stray raindrops splashed from his skin.
Streamers of a setting sun subdued the trees into silence, diffuse in the misted air. In the west, where the clouds were breaking, shafts of sun attached to the ground, while in the blue-black east, a rainbow glowed, arching over a sea of green. Small birds flitted about amongst the trees.
He spun around in a circle. Everywhere he set his eyes, there was music – strings of notes binding together in harmonic dance. Guitar gliding down shafts of sunlight, the piccolo of birds’ flapping wings, bagpipes following the roll of the hills, flutes swaying with the grasses. His running footsteps were the drums: the bass, the throbbing of his heart. Piano dripped amidst the harmony of a strengthening rainbow. And, finally, an organ rushed in, a cresting wave breaking over a shore of grass.
It was Earth, and yet it wasn’t. He lay back and submitted to the dampness of the ground until the sun restored warmth to his body.” – Bret composing a new piece from Beyond the Precipice by Eva A. Blaskovic, pages 173-174
“‘We need to talk to my parents.’
‘No,’ he said. ‘We can’t go spreading my mom’s personal affairs around. She’d kill me.’
‘Look. This is how it works. You can’t always do things alone. You need people who know people. It’s not that they’re my parents. It’s that they’re people with experience.'” – Conversation between Nicole and Bret about seeking help from Beyond the Precipice by Eva A. Blaskovic, page 330