Second Fiddle is a story of adventures in exotic locales. From the outside it may seem that this is always true of military family life. It is accurate that I have lived in six countries and four states. And I have the annoying habit of being able to trump just about anyone’s extreme temperature stories, having lived in both one of the hottest cities in the world, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and one of the coldest, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. But the appeal of exotic travel chronicles only part of the experience. The constant moving of military families is an important theme in Second Fiddle and the book does a great job of capturing the sense of loss, while at the same time, even the thirteen-year-old characters appreciate that they are also receiving a gift.
As the main character, Jody says near the beginning, “The upside of being a military kid was that you got to see a lot of cool places. The downside was that every time you made a friend, you had to move away.” And her friend Vivian adds, “My mother thinks I’m having this great international experience, but changing schools all the time is just the same horrible experience over and over.”
Jody and her two friends Giselle and Vivian live on an American Army base in Berlin in 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They are brought together by their love of music and they travel by train each week to music lessons in East Germany with Herr Muller. They are scheduled to attend a music competition in Paris and they all know it will be their last time to perform together as they are all moving away. On their way home from a music lesson they witness an attempted murder and the adventure begins, sending them across international borders as they desperately try to save the life of a young man.
Without their musical connection the three would not have been friends at all, as Giselle’s father is a general and the base commander, while Jody’s father is enlisted. Jody feels she can’t invite the general’s daughter over as even the adults in the enlisted housing area wouldn’t like it. Of course, parents’ ranks shouldn’t make a difference to the children, but this book accurately reflects that they do.
Author, Roseanne Parry based Second Fiddle on her own life experiences as she says that she moved to Germany in 1990 with her soldier husband. While the details of girls’ adventures can at times seem melodramatic, the book does a wonderful job of capturing the feel of military life. She mentions details that I recognize or have heard from my children and other people. For example, impending doom in the smell of moving boxes; the constant absence of Jody’s Dad; Jody not minding moving so much when she was younger; finding the question of where are you from impossible to answer; living in one place for three years for the first time and feeling unnatural in knowing her way around; and also remembering the time of an event in your personal history from where you lived (“I was seven so it must have been Missouri”).
Second Fiddle is an exciting older children’s adventure that sneaks in some history about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War. Try it if you are interested in the military lifestyle and the people who lead it. I also recommend it for military families, both older children of around ten and up and their parents. It will be a great start for conversations about the lifestyle.
Check the WRL catalog for Second Fiddle.