The Reluctant Canary Sings

The only way to save her family was to sing.

It's 1937, beginning the second dip of a double-dip depression in post-Prohibition Cleveland with its poverty and its gangs. Bobbi Bowen has a dream. She wants to to to art school, but when she passes the Holy Rosary soup kitchen, with its straggle of shuffling men and women in their bedraggled coats, she hums the new swing tunes—Cream Puff or Sing, Sing, Sing— because it seems every time she turns the radio on, she hears about another dismembered body left lying around town. At home, she ducks her parents’ fights—sometimes ducking a flying plate or saucer. So when the bank cuts her mother’s hours, she’s got one chance to keep a roof over her family’s heads—to turn her voice, her most private pleasure, into a public commodity. At the end of her sophomore year, she forever gives up her dream of art school to spend her nights singing in nightclubs. Even though she’s able to make enough to support her family, security remains an illusion she can’t seem to capture no matter how hard she tries. Will her father’s betrayal destroy her?


In Canary we follow Bobbie Bowan, a 15-year old growing up in Cleveland, OH during the Great Depression. She lives with her parents who are constantly looking for work and when they're not, they're fighting. Bobbie enjoys swimming in Lake Erie, spending time with her friends, painting, and singing. When she wins a singing contest, she gets a summer job singing at the Pavilion and a little more financial stability for her family. By the end of the summer, Bobbie's dad has a Public Works job and she hopes to go back to school and paint. When her father is injured at work, she knows she has to step up and earn money to keep a roof over their heads. She drops out of school, gets a job at a jazz club, and supports her parents. Eventually, Bobbie gets a job touring up and down the eastern seaboard with a band but when the US enters WWII, jobs for bands and singers dry up. Bobbie finds herself stranded in Buffalo, NE with no money and no jobs.
The Reluctant Canary Sings is about a girl who stumbles into the life as a big band singer. It shows the strength and resilience she had to have in order to be the primary breadwinner for her family, and how she picked herself up after suffering loss and disappointment time and time again.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anybody who likes strong female characters, historical fiction (specifically Depression/WWII era), big band music, and stories of people beating the odds time and time again. The author was diligent in making the story as historically accurate as possible while keeping it engaging.


Profile Photo Faith A. Colburn

About Faith A. Colburn

As the daughter of a big band canary, Faith A. Colburn has unique insights into the backstage lives of the women who sang for their supper during some very hard times. With both bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees in journalism, she had a strong background in the research required to complete this novel.She’s the award-winning author of two book-length memoirs as well as short fiction and narrative non-fiction.

All books by Faith A. Colburn

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