I’m Glad I Did
Author: Cynthia Weil (website | twitter)
Publisher: Soho Teen
Source/Format: eARC provided by publisher via Edelweiss (thank you!)
Publication date: January 27, 2015 (next week!)
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | B&N | IndieBound | iTunes | The Book Depository | Audible
Mad Men meets Nashville in this debut mystery set in 1963, written by Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Cynthia Weil.
It’s the summer of 1963 and JJ Green is a born songwriter—which is a major problem, considering that her family considers the music business a cesspool of lowlifes and hustlers. Defying them, she takes an internship at the Brill Building, the epicenter of a new sound called rock and roll.
JJ is finally living her dream. She even finds herself a writing partner in Luke Silver, a boy with mesmerizing green eyes who seems to connect instantly with her music. Best of all, they’ll be cutting their first demo with Dulcie Brown, a legend who’s fallen on hard times. Though Dulcie is now a custodian in the Brill Building, JJ is convinced that she can shine again.
But Dulcie’s past is a tangle of secrets, and when events take a dark turn, JJ must navigate a web of hidden identities and shattered lives—before it snares her, too.
It’s 1963 and JJ Green is a New York City girl and a songwriter in a family of lawyers. JJ has always felt immense passion for songwriting, and because of that, she’s a total black sheep. But the summer before she starts at Columbia University, she gets a job as an assistant at a music publishing company, where she exchanges work for a short-term songwriting contract. Her parents make a deal with her: if she can get a song recorded before school starts, they will let her go with her dreams. If not, she will have to give up songwriting.
This book is such a lovely glimpse into a world that not a lot of teens will know much about–the sixties, music publishing, race relations, you name it. There’s a lot going on here, and I think the best part is how well Cynthia Weil evokes the feeling and atmosphere of the sixties. I really feel that only Weil, who is a huge songwriter who got her start in the sixties, could have written this novel. It’s not autobiographical, but there are moments when you really feel like you’ve escaped into the past and you’re working in the Brill Building with JJ.
The novel beautifully weaves together history with JJ’s summer. All throughout, you get glimpses of what’s happening in the world at that time, especially with race relations. JJ, who has always been quite sheltered, gets her eyes opened wide to the music world, to the complexities of relationships, and to the history behind some of the greatest musicians of the time.
While I loved the setting and the setup, I did feel a bit like we didn’t delve deeply enough into who JJ was. By the end of the novel, I knew that she was strong, feisty and a songwriter…but that was it. I didn’t really feel like I knew her, and I felt a bit of a distance from her. Because of that distance, the romance in the novel felt sweet, but didn’t quite get me to real feels levels.
Still, for a debut novel, this book is quite complex – there are strands of mystery, threads of race relations, and just a great message of doing what you believe in. It’s a fast read that holds together well, and I had a great time reading it.
Kick-Ass Secondary Characters: I think JJ’s character development suffered a bit because we got so much of the people around her. From the mysterious boy in the elevator to JJ’s “perfect brother”, to JJ’s Uncle Bernie who is the “godfather of the music industry” to Rona who answered the phones at the music publishing company, there is a wide cast of characters. I really enjoyed meeting them, almost more than I enjoyed JJ herself.
Mad Men Fashion: There’s not a lot of it, but JJ’s mother, Janny, is a fashion plate, and Weil totally name-drops some of the great designers at the time. As a fashion lover myself, this was a little bit of a vintage clothing education for me. =)
Book Theme Song:
Make Your Own Kind of Music by Mama Cass Elliot (written by Cynthia Weil & Barry Mann)
It may be rough goin’ / Just to do your thing / The hardest thing to do / But you’ve gotta make your own kind of music…Even if nobody else sings along…
The Final Word:
I’m Glad I Did is a fast-paced YA historical about music, love, and intrigue in the early sixties. It’s fun, it’s sweet, and it nicely melds together history with what was going on in the music industry at that time. Great for classrooms looking for some context to sixties race relations, and good vintage fun for everyone else.
I’M GLAD I DID comes out next week, January 27! Will you be checking it out? Are you interested in music YAs, or historicals? Are you a fan of Mad Men or other things set in the sixties? Do you like a little bit of mystery and intrigue? Let me know in the comments!