The delightful and ridiculously well-read Trish Buckley is here again with us today, reviewing her latest YA book love. I’ve known Trish for the longest time now and I wish I could see her more often than I do. She digest more young adult fiction than most young adult and is always insightful in her comments about each read. I trust her judgement on YA books more than anyone. You can see the very many YA book review she has done for me by clicking on the ‘guest blogger’ category, but she probably needs her own category to be honest. Thank you Dearest One.
Author: Caroline Stellings
Publisher: Second Story Press
Age Range: Young Adult
Themes: #weneeddiversebooks, race, culture, sexual orientation, gender, 1970s, music, blues, religion, family, drug addiction.
To add this book to your home, school or library collection, click on title links or cover images.
I picked this book up from Netgalley for several (obvious) reasons. Firstly, the cover: A curvaceous young black woman, off-centre, smiling in a glittering green dress, with an old-style microphone. She looked bold, beautiful, and brimming with life. (there’s a different cover, now, but it’s still just appealing).
What about that title? That song, by Janis Joplin takes me back to my memories of happy childhood days of reading and singing.
Of course, knowing the protagonist is a young black woman speaks directly to my philosophy, summed up by the hashtag #weneeddiversebooks. I speak about it often in my reviews and my blog posts. I encourage all types of diversity – race, culture, sexual orientation, and gender. And all the others too.
I tapped into all that from the cover. The blurb spurred me on even more. Historical? Set in the 70s? Sign me up. Easy meets Janis? Oh lordy, where’s the demon I need to make a deal with to get this book? Bring him (her?) here.
Louisiana (nicknamed ‘Easy’) lives in a small Canadian town. Much to her dismay, there isn’t much in the way of nightlife especially in the blues genre. Actually, there aren’t even a lot of black people either, so Easy feels repressed and silent and longs to leave.
The opening chapters set the scene, locate the period, and present us with a bright and determined young woman. We hear her love for her parents, and that’s a complicated, mostly non-biological relationship. We learn she is a mechanic in her father’s garage. Easy’s seen racism first hand, from her singer teacher. We know she’s saving all her dimes to head back to Louisiana, or to New Orleans or maybe even Nashville, but in the meantime, Janis Joplin is on a train called The Festival Express, that will be travelling through Saskatoon and bar nothing, Easy will be there at the station to see it pass by. Of course, Easy gets to talk with Janis who tells her to call her Pearl, and this sets up the rest of the novel, and leads to a road trip like no other.
What Stellings does best is to keep the plot simple, while dealing with many big ideas. Two nuns need help buying a car, and Easy helps them avoid being swindled by opportunistic salesmen. They are off to Albuquerque as a pilgrimage, particularly so that postulant Marsha can find out God’s mission for her. Easy isn’t interested in religion, or vows, or what God wants, but she does want a lift to Texas because Pearl says she’ll introduce her to some music people. It’s a glorious juxtaposition of devout against debauched. Sister Beatrice and novice Marsha represent one kind of living, and Janis Joplin represents a whole different lifestyle.
We travel with Easy and the nuns, and I know 1970 isn’t all that long ago, but while some things are better for African-Americans and women, there’s still a lot about their conversations that are still relevant today. Easy faces ignorance and blatant discrimination, and it’s not pretty. We also see different perspectives about drug addiction. The author doesn’t judge or tell readers what to think, but she does give us plenty to think about.
I loved Easy’s attitude throughout the book. I loved how she listened, and learned, and stood up for herself. I haven’t talked much about the family story, which is part lovely and part sad, but that’s the way it is for all of us. Easy’s story doesn’t end with a glorious triumphant reunion with Janis, but it does conclude most satisfactorily. We know Easy will be okay, and hopefully have a singing career, and will always carry Pearl in her heart.