Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Book Review: Jesse's Girl by Miranda Kenneally

Jesse's Girl Cover Young adult romantic comedy at its very best
Jesse's Girl (Hundred Oaks) by Miranda Kenneally

Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: July 7, 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Pages: 304 pages
Source: NetGalley
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Seventeen-year-old Maya’s passion is playing guitar and performing. When she started her band, The Fringe, it was an eighties tribute band, but over time the lead singer, Nate, took over control of the band, insisting they play only heavy metal, and ultimately engineering a mutiny to kick Maya out of her own band.

Then, while Maya is still depressed from her band’s betrayal, her principal insists that she shadow his nephew for career day, a young man who just happens to be the massively famous, gorgeous, country-music star, Jesse Scott. Maya hesitates at first because, though she was born and raised in Tennessee, where country music is king, she’s never liked it, much preferring her music hard and fast rather than slow and sad.

However, the more Maya considers the opportunity to meet Jesse, the more she comes to believe it would, as her principal declares, be a great opportunity for her. After all, Jesse won TV’s Wannabe Rocker when he was only ten, and at eighteen, he has already achieved three Grammy’s. He’s great on the guitar, and he has a stunningly beautiful voice. At the very least, she figures she might pick up some useful pointers from Jesse about the professional music business, so she ultimately decides to go along with her principal’s plan. Unfortunately, within her first minutes in Jesse’s presence in his huge mansion, the entire encounter seems doomed to failure. He’s even more depressed than Maya, and on top of that he’s opinionated and pushy. But as the day goes on, he begins to make suggestions about her music that ring powerfully true, and as they share confidences about their lives and their musical ambitious, it begins to seem that, even though their worlds—and music—are poles apart, it just might be possible that the two of them have something important to offer to each other than no one ever has.

There are so many things I love about this wonderful romance, which is romantic comedy at its very best. I am a huge fan of romantic comedy in general, and YA romantic comedy in particular. Unfortunately, it is so rare in the YA genre as to be almost non-existent, so for that reason alone I was ready to love this book. When I added on top of that fact that the book was written by the massively talented Miranda Kenneally (MK), whose every teen novel I have excessively relished, I knew that I was in for a treat with this book. I am delighted to report that not a single one of my greatly inflated expectations were disappointed.

Let me list some of the ways I reveled in this book:

First, and most important for a romantic comedy, the “meet cute” is fabulous. It's a highly visual scene, as is almost every scene in the book, and as a result, this story would make a wonderful teen movie. I adore it when romantic protagonists start out on the wrong foot and stumble along from there. I love it as well when the comedy comes from witty repartee, as it does in this novel, rather than relying on slapstick (which is a form of humiliation humor).

The ideal of all romance fiction is to believably present the protagonists as soul mates. Unfortunately, too few authors make their case for that ideal. Not this book. It totally succeeds in achieving that goal.

Maya is a wonderful heroine, strong, assertive, intelligent, talented, caring, but with enough human flaws to make her a rounded, very real person.

Jesse is a tremendous romantic hero. He has plenty of flaws, but they don’t make him unsympathetic, rather they humanize him, because he has many virtues. I really enjoyed him and his relationship with Maya. I greatly appreciated how they bring out the best in each other and help each other grow both as musicians and as caring human beings.

One of my favorite themes in a romance novel is when the romantic protagonists develop a wonderful friendship over time rather than forming a relationship that is 9 parts lust to 1 part affection and respect, as so often is the case in romance novels, not just for teens but adults as well. The friendship in this book is superb, but I have come to expect nothing less of MK. She excels at believable, deep friendships between her teen, romantic protagonists.

Maya’s family is wonderful, including her adorably protective older brother, Sam, whom we first met in Catching Jordan from 2011 (it is great to catch up with Sam and Jordan and see how their relationship has progressed over the years—in this novel, they have graduated college, are in sports-related jobs, and are in their twenties). It is such a rare treat for a YA heroine to have loving, involved, functional parents and caring siblings. Though I will admit that Jesse’s parents are the much more typical, YA, messed-up parents. However, I didn’t mind their melodramatic dysfunctionality since they never appear onstage.

As always in her Hundred Oaks series, MK creates authentic, fascinating Tennessee settings. In this book, we are allowed the treat of experiencing the local color not only of small town Tennessee, but of the famous city of Nashville, which is the “home of country music.”

I talked to a friend of mine, who played professionally as a lead guitarist in a rock band in his teens through his twenties much as Maya does, about the musical scenes in this book. He agreed with my own non-musician perceptions that the musical scenes are authentic and very well done. It was very exciting reading about Maya and Jesse’s shared skill and joy in performing.

It is great to read a YA novel that doesn’t read like a clich├ęd version of a 1980’s John Hughes’ movie—there are no “mean girl” cheerleaders, no bullying jocks, no drunken, debauched parties. However, this is not a G-rated book in that there is some sexuality in it, and thus many parents will not consider it appropriate for preteens and younger teens. However, the sensuality is not at all graphic, and it is tastefully and romantically done, without any of the harshness or crudeness that has found its way into so much of the so-called “edgy,” dark YA over the past decade.

In short, though I received a review copy of this book through NetGalley, which is a very rough, unpolished ARC version of the book, I love it so much, I’m going to buy my own published, polished Kindle version when it becomes available in July, 2015, because this book is a keeper—a wonderful love story that I will want to read again and again.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 5

Romantic Interest: 5

Subcharacters: 5

Romance Plot: 5

Setting: 5

Comedy: 5

Writing: 5

Overall: 5

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