Summary: Sixteen year-old Gordon and his friends, the Lakers, are a group of guys living it up in the summer of 1956. Given a car for his birthday, Gordon is distressed when Lancer, a member of a rival group, is careless with his cigarette and mars the paint job. As the summer progresses the tension between the two continues to build, escalating when Gordon starts going out with Mary, the girl Lancer had his eye on. But when Lancer goes too far, his actions will change Gordon’s life forever, forcing him into a position where he has to decide what he would do to get revenge. By the time school begins again, Gordon has matured in many ways, learning the hard way about what is really important in life.
Number of Pages: 321
Age Range: 15-17
Review: Gordon starts out in Three Songs for Courage by Maxine Trottier as an arrogant teenage boy, devastated by finding a cigarette butt on his new car that he worked so hard to clean and wax. Fancying himself as a James Dean type, Gordon has a pretty normal life hanging out with his friends and pursuing women. An already tension-filled acquaintance with a guy named Lancer gets worse when Gordon and Mary begin a relationship because Lancer is under the delusion that Mary should be with him instead.
It seems harmless at first, this rivalry between the two, but Lancer is mentally unstable and willing to go to extreme lengths to get what he wants, deriving intense pleasure from causing Gordon pain because he feels his actions are justified. Gordon is helpless to protect himself at first because events caused by Lancer seem random, but when he finds out what Lancer has done, he is overcome. Before he can make up his mind to act on his anger, the decision is taken out of his hands and Gordon finds himself wondering what would have happened if it had been up to him.
I enjoyed reading about the 1950s, but what struck me most about Trottier’s book is that again and again, Gordon is surrounded by love and support. He goes through a horrible summer that changes his life, and every time he needs someone, they are there for him. From his parents to his friends to his new girlfriend Mary to Joely, his mentor of sorts, Gordon is supported through his grief and the decisions he makes. He quickly becomes a character worth loving, because so many others care about him. Ultimately, the events of the book end up strengthening the relationships of his life and Gordon comes to realize how lucky he is to have these people in his life.
Trottier is especially skilled at capturing the cockiness of youth and the teenage male. Though I was disgusted at times by the crude detail of the male adolescent psyche, Trottier’s writing really helped me get into Gordon’s experience, and opened me up to a new perspective. I loved it as a piece of historical fiction that captures a time period, and as one young man’s journey through grief to adulthood.
“The night when someone you love dies, especially if you have never before been stroked by death’s wintry finger, is the longest night of your life. It’s one of those nights you will always remember, no matter how old you become. An unwelcome specter, the memory will tuck itself away in your mind, sleeping, waiting patiently, and when you least expect it, rise up and slash at your heart with its claws.” – from Three Songs for Courage by Maxine Trottier, pages 169-170
“David put his arms around Gordon, not just around his shoulders, but entirely around him. Gordon wept then. For the kindness and goodness of his friend, for the loss of his little brother, for his own misery, but mostly just for Stan.” – from Three Songs for Courage by Maxine Trottier, page 171
“But, then Gordon did something that perhaps no other teenage boy in history had ever done or would do. It was an act so unique in young male sexuality, that it was beyond time and space. If it was ever discovered by, and recorded by future anthropologists, they would win the Nobel Prize for Implausibility and get their own stars on the Sexual Walk of Fame.
Gordon took his hand away.
He loved her that much, and he was that afraid of losing her. Gordon could not imagine getting through a night without the sweet and perfect knowledge that Mary was his girl. That’s how much he loved her.” – from Three Songs for Courage by Maxine Trottier, page 233
“Gordon stood up and going to his father, put his arms around him. ‘Thanks, Dad.’
Ben Westley, caught off guard, returned the unexpected hug, his heart aching with love. He watched his son leave the den and climb the stairs. ‘He is so young,’ he thought. ‘There are so many things that can happen to make it all go wrong for him. One stupid thing and that’s it; his life could be ruined. Dear God, let him be safe. Let me give him the right advice when he asks.’
Caught in the powerful grip of his love for Gordon, an emotion so strong that he felt as though he were choking, it would not occur to Ben Westley for quite a while that Gordon had just thanked him for far more than his advice.” – Conversation between Gordon and his dad, Ben, from Three Songs for Courage by Maxine Trottier, pages 304-305
“My brother’s life was not an easy one, as you must know. Perhaps things might have been different for Joseph, had his fiancé not died of influenza while he was in France. I hope, Mr. Westley, that you, a fellow, have not suffered as he did. To fight for your country for three long years and survive, is a miracle. To be doomed to fight that war every day for the rest of your life is a horror beyond comprehension.” – Geraldine Ryan from Three Songs for Courage by Maxine Trottier, page 318