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October 19, 2012

Book Notes - Bronwen Hruska "Accelerated"


In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Bronwen Hruska's debut novel Accelerated is a crisply written literary page-turner as well as a stirring indictment against over-medicating children for hyperactivity.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book wrote of the book:

"Hruska perfectly captures the prep school milieu that crackles with rumors, money, and the hunger for success, while creating a wholly sympathetic father-son relationship that ranks love over Ivy League potential."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In her own words, here is Bronwen Hruska's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, Accelerated:

If I was writing, music was playing. Sometimes to block out the looney-bin escapees at Starbucks where I wrote the first draft of the book, sometimes to trick myself into sitting in front of the computer for hours on end, sometimes because I just needed some company during the long, lonely business of writing a novel. Whatever the reason, these songs (and many more) seeped into the fabric of Accelerated and helped get me in the head of my character, Sean Benning, a single father trying to recover from the sudden departure of his wife. He's also trying to figure out how to be a single parent to Toby for the first time in his life while Toby's third grade teacher is turning up the pressure to put him on Ritalin. Here's my playlist:

"Mother's Little Helper," by The Rolling Stones

If Xanax and Valium are mother's little helpers, then Ritalin and Adderall are teachers' little helpers. Kids are hard to teach, especially energetic eight-year-olds, whether they have a neurological disorder or not, and schools are putting the pressure on parents to medicate their grade-school kids. The more comfortable adults become with prescription mediation—and it seems like everyone I know is taking sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medication, SSRIs or all of the above—the shorter the leap to deciding to give their kids meds. With 5.2 million kids diagnosed with ADHD as of 2010, and a 46% increase in the number of prescriptions doctors wrote for ADHD medications between 2002 and 2010, it's important to think about just who these medications are helping. It's not always the kids.

"Love the Way You Lie," by Eminem and Rihanna

I'll credit my 15-year-old son with my infatuation with Eminem. This song is so full of anger and pain, but it's also thoughtful and full of regret. This song helped me channel some of my frustration toward the fictional school in Accelerated (and also toward the real school on which it's based).

"Here Comes your Man/Boxcar," by The Pixies

The song makes an appearance in the book when Sean has finally gotten an art show and is installing his work alongside the work of some of his heroes, when everything is finally coming together for him. One could make an argument that this is the high point of the book. I remember, a million years ago, driving around Sacramento late at night with this song blasting (on cassette, of course) and feeling pure happiness.

"New York, New York," by Ryan Adams

The accelerated culture of New York City plays a huge role in the book. Third graders are expected to read at sixth grade level, super-fit 40-something moms have to look 25, and kindergarten art rooms are decked out with state-of-the-art equipment MFA programs would kill for. Sean was raised in Troy, NY, and he describes the first time he brought Toby to the prestigious Bradley School as "landing on an alien planet. I understood the life form there was scientifically significant, but I was completely freaked out." I grew up in Manhattan, I'm raising my kids here and I'm not going anywhere. I'm addicted to the energy and pace and crispness of this flawed city. The last thing I wanted to do in Accelerated was to demonize New York. Thank you, Mr. Adams, for the sentiment: "I'll always love you though, New York." The story I tell takes place here, but the ADHD problem in this country is by no means limited to New York or even the East Coast. It's everywhere.

"She's Your Lover Now," by Bob Dylan

The version on the Bootleg series. It's unfinished, but this may be my favorite Dylan song. Which is saying a lot. I'm a Dylan fiend. In the book, Sean's wife has left him, and (for reasons you'll find out when you read it), she makes a reappearance. He's only started to get over her, and being thrown together the way they are is not easy or much fun. I love this song because it captures the exact moment for Sean—the sting of the breakup is still fresh and the anger is just barely beneath the surface.

"O-o-h Child," by The Five Stairsteps

This should be every parent's anthem. When things are bad, all you can do is assure your kids, and sometimes yourself, that things will get better. And then you hope it's true. Plus, it's an awesome 70s song from childhood. Case in point: there's a horn section and a key change. What's not to love?

"Low (aka Apple Bottom Jeans)," by Flo Rida

Only because my ten-year-old son does a hilarious dance to this song and it makes me happy to be a mother when I watch him slide into the Attitude. How did he learn the robot moves? Sean and Toby develop a whole new relationship after Ellie leaves, and Sean realizes that Toby is hilarious and human and that he loves him more than he could have ever imagined. I dare you not to smile when you hear this song. She hit the floor, next thing you know, shawty got low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low….

"Winding Road" by Bonnie Somerville, Garden State Soundtrack

This is a lovely song about finding your way, even though the road that takes you there doesn't necessarily look the way you thought it would. I been walking for a long time, you still don't know where it goes. It's a long way home, I've been searching for a long time, I still have hope I'm gonna find my way home. It's on the playlist because it has everything to do with Sean's journey through the book, but it also has to do with the process of writing the book itself. I was searching for a long time, and it finally found its way.

Bronwen Hruska and Accelerated links:

the author's website

Bookreporter review review
Publishers Weekly review

Huffington Post profile of the author
Jacket Copy interview with the author
New York Times essay by the author
Publishers Weekly interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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