Sunday, August 31, 2014

Wildflower by Alecia Whitaker

Wildflower is a fun, refreshingly clean novel about a sixteen year old girl navigating the world of country music and on the threshold of stardom.

Sixteen year old Bird Barrett is part of a family of musicians, the Barrett Family Band who play bluegrass and tour around the southern United States. Besides her mom and dad, Bird shares the family Winnebago with her two older brothers. Her dad sings and plays banjo, her mom the mandolin, nineteen year old Dylan plays guitar and seventeen year old Jacob is on bass while Bird plays violin. Bird has a big crush on nineteen year old Adam Dean, a close friend of Jacob and another young musician who plays the circuit. Bird considers Adam to be a talented musician and every time their paths cross, she excited to catch up with him again but she's not sure if he feels the same about her.

Bird's family ventured into music after the death of her brother Caleb from a drowning accident. If not for his death they likely would still be living in their two-storey home in Jackson, their father working as a real estate agent. But music saved Bird's family; it was suggested by their pastor that they take up a hobby, something they could do together as a family. So her father returned to playing the banjo, purchased some gently used instruments from a music story and the Barret Family Band was born. Dylan played steel-stringed acoustic guitar, Jacob took up the bass, and Bird's other played the mandolin. Bird chose the fiddle. After Bird won a fiddling competition and Dylan had a successful performance at the school talent show, their father Judd began signing them up to play at local festivals. They've been on the road for the last seven years, ever since Bird was nine.

When Bird's father becomes ill before their next gig in Nashville, she is told she will have to sing lead vocals at the Station Inn. Bird loves music but she's never sung lead before.At first she's nervous but she manages to get through the gig with the help of her family. Afterwards, Bird and her father are approached by a talent scout, Randall Strong, from Great American Music in Nashville. Randall wants to sign Bird to a contract with GAM. Although thrilled, Bird is concerned that this leaves her family missing an essential part of the family band, and for Dylan who passed on college to tour with them.

While the rest of the family vacations in North Carolina with Gramma, Bird and her father meet with Randall who arranges for Bird to do a spot at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. After a successful gig "in the round", Randall attempts to sign Bird that night with GAM. Judd however wants to look over the contract. On their way out of the club, the are approached by another talent scout, Dan Silver who is president of a small record company, Open Highway Records. Bird likes Dan who talks to her and explains that if she signs with GAM she will be churning out the same stuff that's being produced everywhere and her unique talent will be lost. He tells them GAM will "try to package you to fit into their pop image and new-country sound." After discussions with Dan, Bird and her father decide to sign with Open Highway.

This means putting the Barrett Family Band on hold while Bird records her first single, shoots a video and gets an image makeover.Shannon Crossley one of the singers at the Bluebird Cafe helps Bird rewrite her Notice Me song that Bird wrote about wanting her friend Adam to notice her. Shannon's daughter, Stella, soon becomes Bird's best friend. Stella helps Bird reach out and connect with Adam, encouraging her to text him.

As Bird's music career begins to evolve, Dylan struggles to accept what is happening and that he is being left behind. A good musician in his own right, he is struggling with feeling of jealousy and pride.At her release party for her single, Notice Me, Bird encounters Randall who tells her that he has signed a new talent who will be stiff competition.

Eventually texts and phone calls with Adam lead to Bird taking time out of her hectic schedule to have breakfast with him at a pancake house. Bird tells Adam that GAM originally was interested in her but she signed with Open Highway because they led her to believe that she would have more artistic control. However, Adam makes her realize that this is not the case, as evidenced by the change in her appearance, and the difficult time she had convincing them to allow her family to play on her album.

During their catch up time Adam reveals that GAM has just signed a new country singer, Kayelee Ford and that he has been offered a gig to play at her release party in a few weeks. Shocked, Bird questions Adam about making music for someone else but he tells her he wants to settle down and doesn't like the road life. In an attempt to head off what Bird thinks is the possibility that she will lose Adam, she makes him an offer to play on her album although she knows this is highly unlikely. They part with Bird promising to come see Adam play at the 5 Spot in a few weeks.

However, several events occur that soon drive a wedge between Bird and Adam. The first is a set up by her publicist, Anita, with a hot movie star designed to create some publicity as her new single climbs the charts. The second is Bird's well-intentioned decision to help out best friend Stella's high school fund-raiser catches her trouble with Dan Silver and causes her to miss Adam's gig at the 5 Spot. The third is the break-up of the Barrett Family Band with her brothers both applying for college. Can Bird possibly cope with the turmoil in her life and her rocket rise to stardom?

The warm, attractive cover of Wildflower invites readers into a touching story about a young girl getting her big break into the music world while struggling to come to terms with the changes that break brings to both her family and her personal life. Bird never imagined herself having the life of a musician, it wasn't something she'd worked towards. Life was simple, just she and her family touring enjoying making music in small towns and crushing on a cute boy who seemed to like her.

Wildflower is the first in a three book series about Bird Barrett's rise to country stardom. I wish the cover was of a young woman holding a fiddle but perhaps this is representative how Bird doesn't quite stay true to herself in the novel. Although Dan Silver stated that his label would not repackage her that is in fact exactly what they do to Bird. They replace her beloved violin, Maybelle, with a fancy guitar, make her a red head and her publicist even sets her up with a hot, young movie star to garner her some publicity. Instead of being backed by her family, Bird has seasoned session musicians perform on her album. It is her muse, Adam Dean, who inadvertently makes her aware of this, yet Bird seems to ignore this. When she tries to step outside of the boundaries Dan Silver has placed her in, by playing her fiddle at the fundraiser at Stella's school, she's taken to task for it. Not yet mature enough to fully understand who she is, Bird apologizes to Dan and Anita. Ironically, it is Bird doing what she does best, singing and fiddling, that results in her trending on Twitter and getting a ton of publicity. It will be interesting to see how Whitaker develops the theme of identity and the conflict that seems to be building between Bird and Dan over their different visions of Bird as a country music singer.

Whitaker has created well developed characters who interact in a believable way in situations that seem realistic. Especially well done is the lunch Bird has with famous movie idol, Jason Samuels.  They behave as two young people who don't know each other and who have basically been set up on a blind date would - they struggle to find common ground and have a conversation. Based on Jason's actions, Bird realizes that he's is not the plastic movie star he's made out to be.  "...even though all the characters Jason plays in movies make him seem like just another pretty face, now that we're two regular people hanging out in a coffee shop, I realize there's a little more depth to him than I'd figured. He's really a nice, if slightly quirky, guy." 

Bird is a typical teenager with teenager interests that include music, worries about how to attract the interest of a cute guy she's crushing on, shopping and hanging with her new best friend.The descriptions of how important her music is to her are well done. Her best friend, Stella, is a caring person who understands Bird's world of music and offers her a sympathetic ear.

Wildflower has a bit of everything that makes it work; there is the interesting hook of a young girl being discovered and on the verge of stardom, a touch of romance and a bit of conflict. The novel ends on a somewhat sad note, with Bird struggling to find comfort in her music, creating a perfect lead into the next novel.

Having just discovered this wonderful author, I plan on reading her first novel, The Queen of Kentucky, and can hardly wait for the next installment in the Wildflower series. Wildflower is undoubtedly one of the best novels I've read this year.

Book Details:
Wildflower by Alecia Whitaker
New York: Poppy, Hachette Book Group    2014
304 pp.

No comments: