Where the Rhythm Takes You by Sarah Dass


Where the Rhythm Takes You by Sarah Dass, Balzer + Bray (an imprint of HarperCollins), 9780063018525, 2021 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Realistic fiction, romance

What did you like about the book?  Reyna, mature beyond her 17 years, helms her family’s hotel, the Plumeria, on the tropical island of Tobago. Since her mother’s death from cancer two years ago, she’s given up her two main loves: painting and Aiden, a childhood friend who has morphed from cute neighbor/poor fisherman to international music superstar. But then, surprise! Aiden and his bandmates show up to stay at the luxury resort and Reyna becomes their holiday tour guide. The plot goes back and forth in time, from Reyna and Aiden’s early childhood friendship to the drama and break-up that comes when they are 15. Dass grew up on the island, spending her childhood at a seaside hotel, and stuffs her book with atmospheric details that will send readers straight to Google to ooh and ah over photos of this paradise. As we follow the teens’ story, filled with misunderstandings and missed connections, we get to learn a lot about West Indian food, music, traditions, and the island itself.  All of the main characters in the novel are described as Afro-Caribbean, although Reyna’s brother-in-law and his two visiting celebrity sisters are French Canadian with Jordanian parents.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I never for a minute believed that any of the characters in this book were real teenagers. Reyna and Aiden seem more like 30-year-olds who belong in Terry McMillan’s When Stella Got Her Groove Back (1996).  The cover flap bills the book as a West Indian version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, but in that classic, Anne Elliot is 27 and rues the persuasive power that her elders had on her at age 20.  There’s little poignancy in regretting  the loss of a teenage crush; how many people find and commit to their true love at 15?  I also found Aiden flat and sulky, not nearly as promising as his lively and cute buddy Fish, who’s also attracted to Reyna and seems genuinely interested in her art.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Young readers who yearn for romance will excuse the over-the-top drama and appreciate the cinematic setting and relatively chaste courtship between Reyna and Aiden. Although the characters are totally free of adult supervision (Reyna’s dad is strictly hands off) they do very little partying and the physical interaction between the two young lovers is confined to smoldering looks and a few kisses. 

Who should buy this book? High school, public libraries

Where would you shelve it? YA fiction, romance if you genre-fy

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: July 2, 2021

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