The year is 2006. Nicola, aka “Nico,” is coming up on her fifteenth birthday. Thanks to a cumulative set of circumstances involving a Ouija board, a ferry ride, and the discovery of her mother’s stash of vintage CDs, Nico comes to believe that former Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain is A) still alive, and B) her real father.
When I read the premise for Save Me, Kurt Cobain, my first thought was, “Wait, what?” My second was, “I need to read that immediately.” Because, having grown up in the 90s myself, with a stash of CDs I’m starting to realize might be considered “vintage” now, this story is both outlandish and familiar in ways I did not expect.
Back in 1995, I was twelve years old. One day, my seventh-grade classmates and I attempted to summon Kurt Cobain with a Ouija board. Not a real one, but a sketchy replica someone had made out of the back of a spiral notebook and a paper football. As far as I know, our makeshift séance didn’t work. But I have no doubt we weren’t the only ones trying.
Flash-forward to now, and there’s a nostalgic sheen on all things 90s. Today’s teenagers are discovering some of the classic grunge and alternative bands from my formative years for the first time. A few of them are touring again. Plaid flannel is back in fashion. Part of this is thanks to this phenomenon called the “20 Year Rule” where the current generation becomes fascinated with the trends of twenty-to-thirty years prior. When I was a kid, we were obsessed with the 60s and 70s. I’m starting to appreciate how my parents must have felt when I kept buying Beatles albums and wearing flared jeans.
It’s a little weird.
But there’s another layer to this story, because it’s not just about music. It’s not just about Nico’s obsession with Nirvana, although that informs her actions throughout the narrative. It’s about her desire to resolve her mother’s disappearance. Nico’s mother vanished when she was four years old, and the main thread of the story is about Nico trying to find her again. The music they both love is the lens through which Nico tries to reestablish a connection that was lost many years ago. Finding the CD stash gives Nico a place to start looking. She does find some answers, but not the ones she was expecting.
You don’t necessarily have to be a hardcore Nirvana fan to enjoy Save Me, Kurt Cobain, but it probably helps. The chapter titles are all titles of songs, and if you know them they will get stuck in your head for days. Still, if you don’t know Nirvana, you can check out their landmark album, Nevermind, through the Hoopla streaming service, or place a hold for the hard copy at your local branch. Also, you might want to take a look at Kurt Cobain’s biography, Heavier Than Heaven, which is referenced numerous times in Nico’s story after she receives it as a birthday present.
This book was a complete surprise, and the best find I’ve discovered this year.