CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 28. . . .March 31, 2017
Keeping the Beat: Fame, Love, Friends. Pick Any Two.
Marie Powell & Jeff Norton.
Toronto, ON: KCP Loft/Kids Can Press, 2017.
361 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.
Review by Penta Ledger.
The sign on the door read CRUSH in bold, capital letters.
Jason hadn’t been kidding when he said that his bands played only the best venues. Who’d have thought it? Lucy smiled as Paulina fussed over the last bits of Lucy’s makeup. Crush was about to play the Hollywood Bowl. She’d only seen pictures of it in magazines and in films, and now she was about to play on the stage.
The previous two weeks had been a mad dash of rehearsals, practice and, of course, parties. Lucy would happily have focused on nothing but her drum kit 24/7, but getting dolled up and running about Los Angeles was part of the deal, she supposed. She could scarcely believe they’d been in America nearly a month, but it was true. She could only hope they’d learned enough from Alexander to do him proud on stage tonight. Crush was just the opening act, obviously, but that didn’t matter.
Lucy couldn’t even allow herself to think of the band Crush was opening for. Just being here was enough to leave her alternating between clammy nausea and fizzing excitement. If she considered the fact that they were playing at the Hollywood Bowl as the opening act for Electric she was afraid she might actually faint.
Electric. They were going to play on the same stage as Electric. She was, at this very moment, breathing the same air as Trent Eisner. It just wasn’t possible.
“Huddle up, ladies!” Jason strode into their dressing room.
“You are about to do something that a band only gets to do once in a lifetime, and I want you to enjoy every last second of it,” he declared. “You will never have another first gig, and I guarantee you, no matter how many sold-out stadium shows we play, or how many platinum records are on your wall, you will never match the feeling you’re going to have tonight when you walk out onto that stage. There is no greater high, so savor this moment, girls. This is the first breath of the beast the Crush is going to grow up to be. Don’t miss it worrying about your hair, or whether or not you blew a chord or dropped a line. Tell those never they can kiss your collective asses and have fun out there. You’ve earned this, and you’re about to show the world exactly how much!”
Jason was right, Lucy thought, this wasn’t the time to worry about Robyn’s issues. Or the fact that Rafe had insisted that Harper go with him in the equipment van on the way to the show, while Skye rode with the hair and makeup team. Or to wonder why Iza had been sobbing in the bathroom yesterday. None of that was Lucy’s problem - not tonight. Tonight was just Lucy and her drums. That’s all that mattered.
From St. Gabriel’s Girls’ School in the UK, the newest girl band, Crush, is about to be the next best thing on the reality TV show, Project Next. Harper McKenzie, Lucy Gosling, Robyn Miller, Toni Clarke, and Izabella Mazurczak decide to form a rock band and enter into the American competition. But as the band works towards their goal, the girls are left wondering if Harper really has the band’s success in mind, or if she planned this massive scheme just to try get back with her ex-boyfriend, Rafe.
The finals for Project Next are in Los Angeles, and all of the girls’ parents are on board except Lucy’s. They want her to focus on finishing high school and getting into Harvard, but Lucy’s not ready to let her band down nor give up on her dream of becoming a world class drummer. She boards the plane with the rest of the girls and lets her family know she’s gone by text. Though her parents warn her against following Harper, Lucy decides she has to make her own decisions. From this point on, the lives of Lucy and the new band, Crush, change forever.
From the time they land at LAX, the girls are introduced to the rock star life as well as being followed around 24-7 by cameras for Project Next. They meet with stylists, go to parties and practice every day. The demands of the life begin to seep in, and the girls are partying more than they should and meeting people who don’t always have their best interest at heart. Robyn is pressured to lose weight and finds herself mixed up with an upscale pill pusher named Tomas, who convinces her to take weight-loss pills. Toni gets involved with the band’s manager, Jason, who she later discovers is married. And, Harper finds Rafe, who says he’s still in love with her, but is in another relationship with Skye that was set up by their parents. Also, Skye has her own secret love with her family’s gardener, Caesar. Despite these complications, Crush wins the competition and is headed for rock and roll stardom.
Just when things seem like they’re going to get better, tragedy hits. Tomas is arrested at a Crush party, but stashes his bag of drugs and money at the Crush house before the police find it. Tomas threatens to expose Lucy’s addiction and ruin the band if he doesn’t get his bag back. Just before Tomas’ release from prison, Lucy collapses during a beach party and is rushed to the hospital for withdrawal symptoms because she hasn’t had any pills since Tomas’ arrest. The girls race to the hospital, but Rafe convinces Harper to ride in his car so they can talk on the way.
Rafe convinces Harper to run away with him so they can be together, but they have to make one more stop before their escape. The drinks Rafe had at the beach and his determination to get away cause him to drive erratically. Just as they pull up to Skye’s house to get the last of Rafe’s things, Rafe hits Caesar with his car. Rafe refuses to stop because he’s sure he’ll go to jail forever and decides instead to let Harper out at a payphone to call 911.
Later, Harper arrives at the hospital to meet up with her band mates and check on Robyn who is recovering. While there, Caesar is brought in by medics. Skye goes to him and finally gives into her secret love by telling her mother that she chooses Caesar. With Robyn and Caesar in recovery, Harper decides to finally clear up the problem with Tomas by giving him back his stash.
She goes to Crush house only to find the place completely ransacked. At first, she thinks it’s the people Tomas’ works for, but soon sees Rafe holding the bag. Rafe is panicked and holding the gun that was in the bag. He tries to convince Harper to still run away with him, but Harper can’t do it - she can’t live that lie. Rafe can’t let her expose him and send him to jail - it can’t happen - he can’t let it happen.
With the police at Crush house, the investigators’ first thought is that drug dealers broke into the house looking for Tomas’ stash and Harper surprised them. Lucy has some other information about Rafe, but not enough. No one really knows what happened, but Harper has been shot dead.
After this tragedy, Crush is finished and the girls part ways. Before Lucy returns home, however, she has an opportunity to audition as the drummer for another famous band and she takes the chance, this time with her parents’ support. It’s a success, and Lucy continues to follow her dream as a musician. The other girls return home and plan to keep playing together.
Keeping the Beat is a well laid out story with several intertwining plots. The length of the novel allows for very intricate storylines that include some of the stark realities of being famous, drug addiction, growing up, finding love and having to deal with death. The friendships between the girls are also well developed, and each of their characters is different and rounded.
That the novel opens with the ending adds to the mysteriousness of the story. The reader knows what happened, but the characters within the story are never really sure. This adds interest to the story without leaving the reader hanging.
Keeping the Beat is a longer YA novel that would lend itself well to teenage readers. The story deals with teenagers’ coming of age and their maturing relationships with themselves, those around them, and their families. Though the book is about a girl band, I believe it would do well with any teen reader who is interested in the music industry, including its darker side.
Penta Ledger is a teacher-librarian at Gravenhurst High School in Gravenhurst, ON.
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