Archive | 10:23 AM

Book Review: Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian (3/5)

17 Sep

I was excited to read a book set in Detroit. It seems every Detroit-based book takes place in the 60s or 70s when the city was going through a lot of change. I wonder when it will be considered a good setting again? I did appreciate all of the location references, though. It was very grounding.

Cover image via Goodreads

Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian

Summary from Goodreads:

Set in early 1970s Detroit, a racially divided city still reeling from its violent riot of 1967, Beautiful Music is the story of one young man’s transformation through music. Danny Yzemski is a husky, pop radio–loving loner balancing a dysfunctional home life with the sudden harsh realities of freshman year at a high school marked by racial turbulence.

But after tragedy strikes the family, Danny’s mother becomes increasingly erratic and angry about the seismic cultural shifts unfolding in her city and the world. As she tries to hold it together with the help of Librium, highballs, and breakfast cereal, Danny finds his own reason to carry on: rock ‘n’ roll. In particular, the drum and guitar–heavy songs of local legends like the MC5 and Iggy Pop.

I didn’t dislike this book, but I didn’t love it either. I think it’s mostly due to being too young to appreciate the cultural references Zadoorian made. I don’t know classic rock well so it didn’t spike my nostalgia like it might for some. I’m also not a big music fan in general so that passion Danny had for music isn’t something I shared. I was more familiar with music in high school so I tried to channel that, but it was on no level like Danny. I think I just wasn’t the right audience for this book, despite being based in Detroit. I’ve read a lot of books focused on the racial tensions of the late 60s and 70s. This one didn’t teach me anything new.

Zadoorian built great characters in Danny and his mother. We learn about his mom’s mental health issues slowly through the book. It’s very clear she needs help but exactly what she’s suffering from becomes more and more obvious. While Danny’s dad is around, he’s shielded from it. But once he’s alone with her, there’s no sugar-coating the situation. Danny’s anxiety is a little less obvious though I suspect there was a hint of depression in there as well, the feeling he described as ‘the fade.’ I felt both of their emotions were really well-drawn and relatable.

Danny was a great main character. I rooted for him because in some ways he reminded me of myself as a kid. I liked that he was a little bit of an outsider and that he was really passionate. His love of music was very well drawn and I liked how resourceful he was. You wanted him to succeed and have clothes that weren’t stained pink and you wanted him to go to the concert because he’d worked so hard and he deserved to have a night of fun! I think there was something in his high school experience that everyone could relate to.

By the time I got to high school, I liked gym but I had the same dread of it in middle school that Danny displays. His dread of certain activities was very relatable for me. I dread certain things at work or around the house but I’ll push myself to do them just to get the experience and get past the fear. I understood what he meant by ‘the fade’ because I had a similar feeling in high school, I called it fog and it would settle in some times for a few days.

Michael Zadoorian
Image via Amazon

Danny’s friendship with John was my favorite part of the plot. I thought it was really well developed and John helped push Danny in ways he needed to be pushed. Without his father there to egg him forward, John kept him moving forward when he might otherwise have stopped. They needed each other and found each other at a good time.

I did not like the ending of this book. It didn’t feel like a lot of the plot lines were given a conclusive ending. I wanted a little bit more out of Danny and his mom’s relationship, Danny’s job, his friendship with John, and his job at the radio station. It all seemed to just stop abruptly. The letter at the end seemed a poor excuse for an ending and I just felt like Zadoorian stopped writing without finishing what he needed to.

The audiobook was narrated by Alexander Thompson. I liked his narration and I was glad that he pronounced Detroit locations correctly! (Pet peeve) His narration didn’t stand out to me as wonderful, but it didn’t distract me from the story at all which was very important to me. The voices he used for women weren’t demeaning in any way and none of the inflections he chose got on my nerves.

This book dealt with a lot of heavy issues. I think mental illness is the one that stuck with me the most. Danny and his mother are dealing with different types and degrees of mental illness but they can’t talk about it because they don’t have the words to deal with it. Danny’s mom needs a lot of help. She wants to be a good mother and I honestly believe she tried as hard as she could for as long as she could. There seem to be days when she’s great and a good parent. But it’s also clear that she struggles to be happy and that her husband has had to cover for her for years. Once her support system is gone, she has no one to lean on and falls over. Danny has to learn to prop her up and she has to learn to help herself stand up.

Writer’s Takeaway: Zadoorian was clearly writing about some passions he shared with his main character. The love of music and his passion for Detroit were really plain. It’s great when a passion clearly comes across in a book. As someone from Detroit, nothing about it felt false to me. I’m not sure if a reader from another area would appreciate the detail, but it rang true for me.

An enjoyable book, but without much closure that would have made it more enjoyable. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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