By Cynthia Weil
Available now from Soho Teen
Songwriter Cynthia Weil drew from her own life for her debut novel I'M GLAD I DID. JJ Green is an aspiring songwriter who gets a job as an assistant at a music publishing company, where she comes to find love, a mystery, and personal success. The summer of 1963 setting is used well, and the racism of the time is definitely a factor in how the story plays out.
The mystery in I'M GLAD I DID takes awhile to show up. I knew there was a mystery, so I kept being afraid of who would die. I was right to be afraid, because it did wrench my heart. But this is not a dark murder mystery, if you can't tell by the bright colors on the cover. Much of it is just about tracking down the truth of the victim's life, honoring who they were and how much they'd managed to overcome and how sad it was that their hopes for the future could no longer be accomplished.
I didn't know there would be a romance at all, but I liked it. JJ is a strong personality, steadily pursuing her dreams despite her parents' disapproval. She's young, but she knows what she wants from life and how to work for it. She's dazzled by her love interest's green eyes, but their relationship really takes off because it is about more than looks, or even their shared interest in music. Both of them have a passion for doing the right thing, for doing the difficult thing if it is what they believe in.
And the music side of the story gets plenty of attention too. There's lots of interesting detail about how the music publishing and recording companies worked (and how writers often got screwed out of royalties). There are references to contemporary artists, including the recently deceased Leslie Gore, and to past giants, especially in the jazz and blues genres. Weil deftly gives Rosetta Tharpe, Bessie Smith, and other often forgotten women their due.
I'M GLAD I DID is sure to delight music and mystery fans alike. The historical detail isn't overwhelming, but it is never forgotten. The story works wonderfully with the setting. I can see I'M GLAD I DID having a strong appeal for Nancy Drew fans looking for something more complex.