Retta Lee Jones has a dream to leave her small town in Tennessee and make it big as a country music singer down in Nashville. Now that she’s graduated high school and her friends are going to be going to colleges out of town, she knows it’ll be harder being the only one to stay. But with the nudging of her good friends, she decides to take the $500ish dollars she has saved up from working at the diner and use it to strike out on her own in the big city of country music. She has a voice, but will she have the will power?
With a little help from the local grump, she borrows a beat down car and makes the trip with promises to be back in September if things didn’t work out. But when she runs into a little car trouble, Ricky Dean saves her with his mechanic skills and puts her to work as his secretary so she can make a little money. A gig at a local hotel and doing open mics at the Mockingbird Cafe, though, might be the recipe for seeing her name in the big lights sooner than Retta’d ever imagined.
Somebody Everybody Listens To is a sweet story about perseverance and about growing up. Retta is a fun lead character in this story, and she is 100% authentic as both a teenager, a dreamer, and a southern girl. The book is chock full of allusions and stories about country music legends, as each chapter opens with a small biography of a well-known country star, when and where they were born, their road to fame, their first jobs, and something significant that happened in their personal lives. This mimics exactly how the story works out for Retta: we know when and where Retta is born, and as the story progresses, we see how she gets her first big break, and then we discover some of the big road bumps that jostle her.
Supplee, whose Artichoke’s Heart I’ve also read, has a really enjoyable writing style that has wide appeal: her characters are full of heart, and her prose moves smoothly and at a good pace. She doesn’t get too caught up in details nor does she weigh the story down with too many characters. There’s a nice balance of lead and ancillary characters in her story: just enough to know Retta intimately but enough other characters to know that there is more going on in the world than just Retta. I thought Ricky Dean and Bobby McGee play in well, as does Retta’s best friend Brenda. We also learn that Retta would not have been the only one left in their small town — and I think that this entire feeling Retta and Brenda develop mirrors what a lot of people who just finished high school feel.
Although Retta is ultimately successful in Nashville, it’s the kind of success that is believable in just a couple of months. She’s not a multimillionaire, and at the very end, we actually don’t know what Retta chooses to do. We can speculate, and I think that Supplee does her readers a huge service by leaving the ending open a little bit.
This book will work well for middle and high school students, as it is entirely clean and free of any issues relating to drugs, alcohol, or sex. Retta doesn’t as much as kiss anyone in the book either: this is a story of her following her dreams of success as a singer. Fans of country music will dig this, as will fans of a coming-of-age story. Hand this off to fans of Supplee’s Artichoke’s Heart, Lisa Greenwald’s My Life in Pink and Green, and fans of Wendy Mass. And as a bonus to readers, the author’s provided her writing playlist, so readers can make their own listening list that will fit the mood of this book perfectly.
Also, how cool is it this book has a blurb from Dolly Parton?
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).