Thursday, May 18, 2017

But if there were no music then I would not get through: THE WHOLE WAY HOME.

The Whole Way HomeThe Whole Way Home by Sarah Creech

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jo(anne) Lover is a successful country music artist--a talented singer and fiddler--who is making music her own way. She's well-known as a down-home singer from Virginia who writes her own songs and loves the music she makes. Jo plays to packed crowds across the U.S. who love her more traditional style of music, her fiery spirit, and her patented red cowboy boots. But when the popular country band J.D. Gunn and the Empty Shells joins Jo's label, Asphalt Records (who just happens to be run by her future father-in-law), things change. J.D. Gunn and Jo grew up together, and along with their friend, Rob, were in a band as children. But Jo is now in a very different place from her childhood friend. J.D. has embraced modern country music (and it he). He sings songs about girls and pickup trucks--none of which he writes himself anymore. And he's made a lot of money doing so. But Jo can't quite adopt what modern country radio embodies: her heroines are Dolly and Loretta and her music reflects that. Still, J.D. and Jo have a storied past together, one that Jo increasingly cannot forget the more time they spend together.

This is a really interesting story of three linked artists: Jo, J.D., and Denver, who plays in a band with an African American singer, Alan. It's told in a conversational style from their various viewpoints, covering the present day as well giving us more background when the characters think back on the past. It's a very effective technique.

I cannot remember exactly why I requested this ARC, but I'm glad I did. This book is basically tailor-made for me: I'm a gigantic country music fan (from Virginia), who adores 90s country music and a lot of Jo's various heroines. As a child, my idol was Mary Chapin Carpenter, I was obsessed with cataloguing every country song I heard on the radio, and I wanted to be a country music singer/songerwriter (slight problem: I can't carry a tune). Needless to say, I loved Jo immediately.

Creech's novel presents a realistic take on modern country music, especially its stance toward African Americans and women. Her portrayal of the old country versus new country dichotomy is spot-on, but could potentially offend those who do love their songs about girls in pickup trucks sung by a revolving door of carbon copy male singers. You probably have to appreciate older country music for this book to work best.

But, don't fear if you aren't a country music fan. At its core, this is a love story, and while it's sometimes predictable and things tend to resolve themselves a bit too easily, it's really a fun one. It's a story of falling in love over music, as well as love of music. It's a strong story, but also captures the essence of what makes music special and magical. It portrays how music can be a business, or music can be a salve for your soul. Jo and J.D. are interesting characters and the supporting cast is intriguing and fun. Along with J.D.'s bandmates, we have Jo's assistant, Marie, and Denver's bandmate, Alan. There's also Jo's fiance, Nick, who is no stock character. While it has most of the earmarks of a typical romance-type novel, there are plenty of surprises along the way. It's also surprisingly profound for a soap opera tale. I enjoyed how it was a saga of music and love, but also a story of changing times and a look into what is fake and what is real. Jo and J.D.'s stage personas and the images they create for the world versus their real selves is pretty fascinating. It's sort of a backstage pass into country music, which is fun.

Overall, this may be a 3.5 - 3.75 star book, but I'm rounding up to 4 stars because I enjoyed the plot so much and because it's one of Creech's earlier books. The plot was fun without being silly and it just offered a good escape. Honestly, I would love it if there was another book picking up where this one left off.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 06/06/2017.

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