This review was first posted at West of Mars. It’s being reposted here, at its new permanent home.
In my quest to become the world’s most knowledgeable woman about this genre I call Rock and Roll fiction, I must say that while I’ve encountered similar plots before, the situation in Sarra Manning’s Guitar Girl is a welcome, fresh one.
It’s told in flashback style, when it’s all over but the infighting. This is always a difficult structure to pull off well, but Ms.Manning does. We are set up for angst and betrayal and a lawsuit — but we get so much, much more.
Guitar Girl is the story of Molly, a girl who is inspired by rock queen Ruby X. Molly’s intrigued by the idea of girl power and what it means for a rock band, so she grabs her two best friends and starts a band. They are totally clueless, and that instantly endears us to them. They’re muddling through — until Dean and T enter the scene. Those two have a clue. In the end, we realize they have much, much more than that. Angst and betrayal, indeed.
This fivesome remains pretty clueless throughout the book, which is a total strength of the book. If Molly knew how she was being played, we’d have an entirely different — and significantly less charming — book. But part of the strength of Guitar Girl lies in the fact that we readers pick up the clues Molly keeps missing. Instead of calling her a blockhead and wanting to chuck the book aside, we can’t. Molly’s hanging on through this ride, and that’s about all she can manage to do. We don’t expect her to see the signs. Frankly, she’s not capable.
Yes, our heroine is in over her head almost from the get-go. The cynical part of me wants to scoff and say this could never happen. Sadly, I think it happens more often than not. This is music industry exploitation at its best, gang. How Molly manages to emerge from it as relatively unscathed as she does is pretty darn amazing. She’s so darn innocent as the book opens, a true naif, as my satire professor would have said.
Yet her innocence doesn’t keep her from seeing herself when she has a chance encounter in an elevator with another rocker type. Molly’s savvy enough to realize where she’s headed — and, no matter how hard it is, she knows what she’s got to do.
Guitar Girl is totally Molly’s story, and to that end, sometimes the supporting characters aren’t as strong as they could have been. Molly’s parents are well-drawn but sometimes veer into the realm of cliche. And the band? They aren’t nearly as distinctive as they should be. There are four other people in The Hormones with Molly, but Jane gets lost, both on the page and in her own life as alcohol and drugs take over. Tara’s pretty typical, T falls short of the goal of being deliciously eccentric, and Dean’s a jerk. He’s hard to like, even when he’s being nice to Molly. Why she is involved with him at all makes no sense, except that nothing else around her is in control. Why should her heart be?
It’s really the ending that makes this book touching. A moment in an elevator has ramifications and repercussions that are totally unexpected — but precious nonetheless.
This one’s a definite West of Mars recommended read.