I received this book for free from Book Expo America in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.I'm Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil
Published by Soho Teen on January 27th, 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult
Source: Book Expo America
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and songwriting legend Cynthia Weil's extraordinary YA debut opens the secretive doors of the Brill Building-the hit factory that changed history. Part Mad Men, part Grace of my Heart, part murder mystery, I'm Glad I Did is a coming-of-age story at an unforgettable cultural tipping point: the summer of 1963.
JJ Greene, a gifted 16-year-old songwriter, defies her lawyer parents by secretly applying for a job in the famed Brill Building-the epicenter of songwriting for a new genre called rock-n-roll. But their warnings about the evils of the music industry prove far darker than she imagined when she finds herself at the heart of a cover-up that involves hidden identity, theft, and possibly murder.
I’m Glad I Did is a book that probably wouldn’t be on my radar at all and that I wouldn’t be likely to pick up if it wasn’t at BEA in 2014. But I’m glad it was, because this historical fiction about the music industry is wonderfully written and authentic. Ultimately, I did want a little more from the mystery part – but I did enjoy this quick read anyway.
Cynthia Weil is – apparently – a pretty successful songwriter, so it was immediately obvious that the setting within the music industry in the 1960s, in New York City, was wonderfully authentic. I looove music and such behind-the-scenes stories (like the TV series Nashville), so I was instantly smitten with that. JJ Greene comes from a family of lawyers, but she wants to be a songwriter. Her mother is prejudiced against the music industry, so JJ goes behind her back to get a summer job in a music publishing company and sets up a deal – if she can get a song recorded before she leaves, her mother will let her pursue her dream.
The scenes where JJ is writing her music are so wonderfully written and inspiring. I generally admire characters going for their dreams in spite of familial or societal expectations, so I could instantly sympathize with and admire her. However, this isn’t a light and fluffy “searching for stardom” story, because when JJ finally seems to be getting on her way with her writing, she gets caught up in a murder mystery.
The mystery part of the story is where the book kind of lost steam for me. I liked that it brought the racial issues of the time period to the front, because that added to the wonderfully authentic setting, and it highlighted complex family dynamics, which gave the story some added depth. However, figuring out who did it was rather simplistic. Convenient details were revealed at convenient times. Unsurprisingly it was up to two teenagers to figure it all out – they couldn’t trust the police. I dunno, it was all just a bit cliche and unoriginal. There were some twists which I wasn’t entirely expecting, but they were revealed without a real sense of suspense. So… it was kind of a mixed bag. If you’re really into mysteries, this one will probably bore you. It’s not the biggest selling point of the novel.
As always with YA, there’s also a romance. JJ quickly meets Luke in the office, and he eventually becomes her songwriting partner. But after just seeing him once, she kind of obsesses about the “green-eyed boy” in a way that did NOT really make me ship them. Fair enough, when they start actually getting to know each other, it mellows out and clearly is not instalove… but then later, after knowing each other for only a few weeks, they get sappy and sort of make long term plans and… eh. I didn’t really care for the romance at all, to be honest, and I would have preferred them being just friends. Seriously, being romantically involved with your songwriting partner is a bad idea, because the relationship turning sour could ruin your career – but that was not even mentioned.
Ultimately, I feel like this book was trying to do a bit too much for it all to be done effectively. Let’s not forget it’s less than 300 pages, which contains a historically authentic setting, songwriting, a murder mystery, some romance, complex family dynamics, and some racial tensions. All of that. Though none of it is really done badly, there’s not enough room for it all to get the depth it needs to blow you away. There’s a bit of wasted potential, I guess.