Review of Save Me, Kurt Cobain by Jenny Manzer

Save Me, Kurt Cobain is a nimble and insightful coming-of-age novel about music, friendship, and unrequited grief. 

When Nico Cavan was four, her young mother pointed to three snowdrops set in a Mason jar on the family’s faded Formica kitchen table. «I’m going away, » she told her young daughter. «But I’ll be back before these flowers wilt.» The flowers wilted and the petals fell. Annalee Lester never returned. 

Nico, now a student in grade 9 at Victoria High School, is haunted by her mother’s unexplained absence. Nico has blue hair, a taste for secondhand clothes and flannel shirts, and one friend, the sweet Obe, another lone outsider. Nico and Obe save their money to buy CD's at Victoria's Lyle’s Place, and bond over all things grunge, the punk-influenced alternative music scene (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Hole, etc.) that surged in Seattle in the mid-80’s. 

Manzer’s image-rich novel is a tribute to how music can bridge distance, soothe, and fortify. Nico has very few memories of her mother, which she savours measuredly, treating herself frugally to their balm. But on discovering a box of her mother’s grunge CD’s and a collection of zines about Seattle's 1980s music scene, along with Polaroid photographs showing her mother with late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, the connection between Nico and her mother deepens across the generations, and the silence (Nico will also discover that as a teenager, her mother, too, had blue hair). Emboldened, Nico sets off on a music-fuelled, recklessly desperate mission to find her mother, on the way tracking a man she is convinced is Kurt Cobain, and her biological father.

With ferry rides between Seattle, Vancouver, and Victoria, Save Me, Kurt Cobain is a consummately west coast novel, filled with icy rain and wet snow and winter damp that "clung to you like a layer of fish skin.” It is also a paean to dreaming in vintage and DIY, and seeking answers to the toughest questions.

 

Sara Cassidy is a freelance writer and editor, children's books columnist for Island Parent Magazine, and writing instructor. She has had articles published in the Winnipeg Free Press, Herizons Magazine, Halifax Chronicle Herald, Focus Magazine, Times Colonist, The Globe and Mail, Today's Parent, Island Parent, and CBC Radio. Currently she is working on a young adult novel set in 1800's France, and short story and poetry collections (for adults).