Monday, September 30, 2013
BOOK REVIEW: "Jazz Baby" by Beem Weeks
Emily Ann (AKA "Baby") Teegarten is a teen with a dream: she wants to go to New York to sing jazz, but first she needs to get out of Mississippi and her little one-horse town. The only way to do that is to trust her papa's best friend, Tanyon Thibbedeaux, who can get her into New Orleans to get her start. But her start is rocky as her first attempt at singing in Frank Rydekker's jazz club ends in a riot and a rape and then a family tragedy: Emily Ann's mother killed her father and is now sitting in prison.
Baby wants to have fun and make her dreams come true. She doesn't want to live with her cranky old aunt in Mississippi, surrounded by temptations (her aunt's young African-American maid Neesie, Emily Ann's secret desire; the preacher's son Jobie Pritchett, who wants to marry her but yet claims she isn't his "type"; Audie, the girl everyone thinks is the town lesbian; Billy Blood, the Native American young man who is a daily temptation to nearly every young girl in town, including her beloved Neesie). How can she when life keeps taking turns for the worse every day? This is a coming-of-age story showing the trials and tribulations of being a small-town white girl who wants to play what was then the music of the African-American community. The novel deals with race, sexual promiscuity, confusion about sexual orientation, rape and murder, not to mention the drug and alcohol problem of the 1920's. It is written in the dialect of the era, which was new to me, but made the whole story seem more genuine.
I wasn't really sure what to expect when I opened this book on my ereader. I enjoy stories from the late 19th to the early 20th century but rarely can you find anything written in this decade about those times that really strikes as original and accurate.
Jazz Baby is both.
Beem Weeks may have taken a decade to write this novel, but it was worth it. He created an emotional roller coaster of a novel with characters you will love, hate and relate to in a time when being bad felt so good and music could be heard on every corner, luring in even the most innocent and pious of souls. Like jazz, this novel also lures you in, making you love Emily Ann as a friend or daughter and want to know if she ever is able to achieve her dreams. I never give away endings (though I admit to using spoilers every so often), but I will say that, when you finish this novel, you will want a sequel, as Emily Ann's story is one you will want to know until the end!
Really excellent first novel, with social commentary on drugs, sex and the human conscience. I give it a 4/5.
Purchase Jazz Baby via the following:
Barnes & Noble
Ditect from the publisher, Fresh Ink Group
Stay tuned tomorrow for an exclusive interview with the author, Beem Weeks!