Near the end of Sarah Nicole Smetana’s debut novel The Midnights, her protagonist, Susannah, muses about “the strangeness of these in-between moments, these points of intersection between one thing and the next.” The Midnights follows Susannah through a sort of in-between year, one in which she loses someone precious and perhaps gains something priceless.
Susannah’s dad was once the guitarist for a band called the Vital Spades, a rock group that was on the verge of greatness until personal circumstances broke them apart. Ever since they called it quits, her dad has mourned what could have been. Susannah secretly harbors her own musical ambitions but has always been too unsure of herself to share them outside of the midnight music lessons with her father. After he dies suddenly at the start of her senior year, Susannah and her mother move from Los Angeles to Orange County, California, where Susannah discovers she’s not the only one in her family with secrets. In her new surroundings, Susannah quickly makes friends with a charismatic free spirit and finds an opportunity to redefine herself as a fearless musician with a strong voice of her own—but is it possible she’s still undervaluing her own worth?
Smetana’s debut is ambitious but thoughtful, especially when it comes to Susannah’s knowledge and intuitive understanding of music and lyrics. Some narrative paths turn into dead ends while others (especially romantic ones) remain at times frustratingly unexplored, but the story’s occasional meanderings mirror Susannah’s own circuitous journey toward knowledge and self-respect, one on which readers will be more than happy to accompany this talented young woman.