Wick, Katie. Hazel Fine Sings Along. Wattpad Books, 2023. ISBN 9781990778582. $18.99
I do have a biased and allergic reaction to self-published books — I figure if it’s really good, an established publishing house will pick up a manuscript and put it through the professional editor wringer. Editing is everything. You might even note in my reviews, I am more likely to cast blame on an editor for errors, inconsistencies, and plot holes than to blame the writer. I haven’t been in the habit of checking who the publisher is before I request items on NetGalley (although, if it’s from #Berkley, it’s usually an automatic seal of approval for me!). I sometimes get 10% through a book, sigh, wonder if it’s self-published, and then flip to the title page to confirm my evidenced hypothesis.
I didn’t get too far in Hazel Fine Sings Along before wondering if it was self-published; not quite. Wattpad is an online platform for books (most often written episodically, like serialized fanfiction) to find readers, and in this case, the cream rises to the top. I did find two typos, and sometimes the plotting and styling was a little amateurish, but no worse than a Colleen Hoover novel, which I understand are beloved but don’t do it for me.
The novel opens with Hazel Fine leaving the fleabag motel she’s been staying at with her rescue rabbit. to get to the open call for a musical competition called The Sing Along (think American Idol) with her fake ID and fake identity. The story takes us through the competition, alliances, fallouts, and resolution of the full season, with a side of romance. Supporting characters are interesting: her bestie Amber is a sex worker with a child, portrayed with positivity and sensitively; Benji, already a TikTok star in his own right, helps to create interest (and deflect a lecherous producer) by staging a fake relationship with Hazel. The drama is high but not over-the-top, and Hazel’s past is revealed at a good pace. Her love interest, Nick, is on the production side of the show. A songwriter and pianist, he’s mysterious, attractive and kind. It was hard to suspend my disbelief that Hazel’s forgiveness for her parents actions was so quick and complete, when boundaries can be an acceptable; we are not obligated to maintain relationships, even with family members, who are not good for our mental health.
I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #HazelFineSingsAlong from #NetGalley.