I received a review copy
It is the spring of 1989 in New York City when Jill Dodge, a post-punk rocker from Texas, finally gets her big promotion at Mega Big Records. She is thrust into a race to find a gritty, urban rapper before the “Gangsta” trend passes their label by. As Jill and her mostly middle-class coworkers search for the next big rap star, they fluctuate between alliances and rivalries, tripping over the stereotypes of race, class, and musical genre. They work to promote their current roster of acts as well as the new rap artist they sign to a contract. It turns out, he may not be what they expected. Full of original lyrics and wit, Start With the Backbeat is a compelling examination of the nuances of class, race, and culture in America ― which are sometimes ridiculously serious.
Any time I have the opportunity to review a book that features characters working within a creative industry, I jump at it — because there is almost always a very unique undercurrent where the author’s creative-person mindset pulls through to the characters. It’s such a special thing. And that was definitely the case with this book.
Ms. Isassi is very clearly tied to the music industry and because of that, she lends a tremendous authenticity to the characters and plotline. She brings Jill and the gang to life by throwing them into situations that were very likely to have happened in the late ‘80s, while also giving us a peek at the behind-the-scenes inner workings of such a complex biz. Although there are a few modern-day references that snuck in (was there a smoky eye trend in the ‘80s?), the “beige brick with an antenna” brought back some seriously old-school memories. And Jill’s “relationship” with “her Gordon”? LOVED IT! Because we have all been there!
Start With the Backbeat features a fun cast of characters and very snappy dialogue. The author also included some original song lyrics within the story, which is always cool because authors who do this are obviously very passionate about the words they’ve chosen to share. Unfortunately, since music is so personal and is hard to portray via the written word, lyrics within a book are usually lost on the reader — which is a shame. Still, I appreciate the author’s attempt to bring her characters to life through “their” songs. If we could actually hear them singing, I bet we’d be as reeled in as the characters in the book.
If you love the music (or any creative) industry, you’ll love this book. It’s fast, fun, and has that happy ending we all love.
Start With the Backbeat gets 4.5 stars!