The Songs that Could have Been

  • Author: Amanda Wen
  • Publisher: Kregel Publications
  • Available Now
  • Synopsis: Carter and Lauren, who fell in a love at a high school theater camp, reunite after a thirteen year separation. Lauren’s grandmother, Rosie, experiences a niggling recollection of a man named Ephraim, with whom she shares a history.
  • DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher via Audra Jennings publicity tours. Opinions expressed are my own.

Scripture Connection

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Eph. 4:22-24

Spiritual Themes

I feel that this book was rich with spiritual truths, and it is one that I am delighted to recommend on the basis of its treatment of romance. Whereas I often need to include a content note about books that imply that fulfillment can be found a romantic partner, Wen makes it very clear that broken people CANNOT be “enough” for each other.

I am sitting here typing, praising God, as I recall this beautiful message. It wasn’t an afterthought. It was central to the plot, along with the idea that Christ WILL be near us, renewing our spirits and healing that brokenness.

The other central biblical theme was the idea that love is not selfish, but sacrificial (1 Cor. 13:5).

What I Liked

This felt like a really “quick read,” for me, and not just because it’s on the shorter side for an adult novel. Wen’s pacing was fantastic, with three different speakers, contributing four different perspectives. (Chapters were also fairly short, or were broken into sections, which really improves the reading experience, for me.)

I enjoyed the Fiddler on the Roof references (and wow, I just realized the symbolism of that particular allusion. Brilliant!). I felt that these were a meaningful addition to the plot, which also added a fun pop-culture flair.

I also want to note that I was blown away by the introduction of the third speaker. This speaker was introduced a few chapters in. Up until this point, I had already been enjoying the book, but when this speaker started narrating, that really “sealed” my impression of the writer’s skill. Wow! This was my first time reading first person narration of this sort (which is an ambiguous statement, because I don’t want to spoil anything), and it felt very authentic to me.

The novel also has two different time settings, which I have noticed as a trend in recent books. While I have read books that span a number of years, I think this is the first (non-time-travel) book I’ve finished where one part of the book is clearly “Contemporary,” whereas the other part would be classified as historical fiction.

As I’ve mentioned before, historical fiction isn’t usually my first choice, so I was very impressed that, at points, I was much more interested in the historical plotline than I was in the contemporary story. The nature of that plotline also really captured my interest– and I feel that it was very well-executed.

SPOILER (below)

This is a little spoilery, but the plotline I referenced just above was an interracial romance, in a time when it would have been illegal. My mom (a biracial, Mexican woman) was born at a time when her existence would not have been legal in all of the states, so this theme has personal significance for me.

I also really appreciate the narrative from a social justice angle (and I feel the portrayals of the events are both realistic and fair) and I felt that the author’s note at the end of the book did an ecllent job of gracefully articulating her intentions. Plus, Wen herself is in an interracial marriage, so I feel that she has some personal knowledge of the subject matter.


The book summary alludes to a major upheaval in the main character’s life, prior to the start of the novel. This is possibly a small spoiler, but I do think it would be fair for the reader to know that she is recovering from bulimia. In all fairness, I would have been less likely to read the book if I had known that this would be part of the characterization, and I feel that this portrayal was tastefully executed. There wasn’t a ton of emphasis on the specifics of her physique, so for me (as someone who has struggled, to some extent, with body image), the book was not harmful. However, I do think this information could be helpful for readers who may “trigger” with this content.

There was one joking reference to drag, which I felt uncomfortable given the pervasiveness of cross-dressing in today’s culture.

There are also a few kissing scenes.

Recommendation Status

This was such an excellent, enjoyable read– in terms of the message, quality of the writing, and the plot. I’m eager to read more works by Amanda Wen. To enter a giveaway for this fantastic book, click here.

Published by Stephaniesninthsuitcase

Hi, there! My name is Stephanie and I’m a Fresno, CA native. After studying at Biola University, I received my MLIS (Masters in Library Science) from San Jose State University. I live with my mom, poet Kimberly Vargas Agnese, and serve as her unofficial agent. We reside at MeadowArc, a food forest in its infancy. I am called to, and passionate about, purity. In fact, the name Agnes means “pure.” Before I was born, my mom felt led to include the name Agnes in her name, and in the names of her children. My full, hyphenated name includes 26 letters (but not the whole alphabet).

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