Matthew (nickname: Matt) is a 20-something independent bookshop owner badly coping with his recent breakup with long-time girlfriend Kate. Quiet and reserved, Matt is blessed to have a best friend in Jake, who is in many ways his complete opposite.
When Jake forces Matt to give Kate a breakup mix tape with letters narrating the inspiration behind each song, Matt reluctantly agrees.
“Matty’s Mixtape for Moving On” unravels through the songs Matt chooses and the letters he writes, each of them deeply personal, revealing, and nostalgic.
Read on to learn why Roch Lazarte’s debut novella is one of the most moving and magical stories I have read in years.
Roch is a friend and former co-worker of mine. We share a deep love for both reading and writing. Roch has always said that fiction is her Achilles heel, so I was overjoyed when she posted the book cover and synopsis of her soon-to-be-published novella on Facebook. I was about to request for a reviewer’s copy of her novella, but she beat me to the punch.
The first thing I noticed about “Matty’s Mixtape” was that it was how its chapters were divided by song. Few of the artists were familiar to me—Hall and Oates, Sarah Bareilles, Ed Sheeran, and Birdy—but aside from Birdy’s “Terrible Love,” I failed to recall any of the songs.
So I logged onto YouTube and listened to all the songs a several times, to get myself into the general mood of the story. These weren’t the songs I grew up with or regularly listened to, so I was a bit wary of how that would affect my reading experience. What I can say for sure is that I enjoyed the novella immensely despite being unfamiliar with the songs.
(I also downloaded Ingrid Michaelson’s albums on Spotify. I’ve been listening to them on shuffle for days. But now I’m getting off track!)
Roch Lazarte’s “Matty’s Mixtape for Moving On” is a contemporary young adult novella. In the story, there is hardly any interaction between Matt and Kate other than through anecdotes and flashbacks.
For example, the time when he fell in love with Kate at first sight. The story reads more along the lines of young adult novels by John Green, Stephen Chbosky, and Rainbow Rowell.
Roch’s story is filled with pockets of magic, in the shifting narratives of Matt’s internal monologues, his letters to Kate, and his dialogues with Jake.
Matt is introverted and lives a lot in his own mind. He tends to daydream and overthink things a lot. This translates beautifully in his letters, where he writes things like:
“The bookstore would still be there waiting for me, but essentially, I would still be behind in Life, everybody would still be ahead of me, and you would still be gone.”
“In any case, I’m getting tired from asking questions that don’t have answers, Kate. I’m hoping I’ll grow tired of you, too.”
Matt and Jake’s friendship, perhaps even more than Matt’s trying to get over Kate, is the emotional core of this novella. The best friends grew up with and know everything about each other: the way speak, the way the move, their likes and dislikes.
(And they have weekly game nights where they play “Borderlands,” which is awesome!)
I love how the dialogue between them is so naturally funny. They are perfect breaks in between Matt’s serious musings on love lost.
Jake also has his own conflict in this story. He is a beloved veteran literature professor who has always dreamed of writing his own fiction. However, like Roch, he fears that fiction writing is his greatest weakness.
Now he is at the cusp of making a major life decision: whether or not to quit his respectable teaching job and focus full-time on writing fiction.
This seemed like an frivolous complication to me at first, since “Matty’s Mixtape” is a very short novella with a little less than 15,500 words. But Jake’s story is just as important as Matty’s and both stories complement each other well.
I read “Matty’s Mixtape for Moving On” in one go. That’s how I recommend you read it too, if you want to get the feels at its strongest. The pockets of literary magic in Roch’s fiction all converge into an epic swell of emotions at the end. It’s been days and I still haven’t recovered!
Roch Lazarte has cast her spell on me, and I can’t wait to read more of her stories. Fiction isn’t her Achilles heel, perhaps merely her great fear. I hope she gains more self-confidence as she continues writing fiction.
Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating: