Jasmine comes from a nice life — she’s had everything she’s ever wanted, and she’s being pressured by her father to take advantage of this. He wants her to go to a good college and make a name for herself, but she doesn’t want to go. She’s adamant about striking it out on her own and building a career in music. So her father does what any loving father does, of course, and kicks her out.
She makes her way to Santa Cruz, the place she dreams of living and making a life for herself, and she soon realizes that achieving her dreams on her own isn’t going to be as easy as she thinks. Sure she has the equipment and the musical know-how, but when she’s pressed to talk about her experiences performing in front of a band she’s trying to get a spot in, she lies. And it might be that lie which ultimately breaks her.
Amplified is Kelly’s second novel, and after Harmonic Feedback, my expectations were quite high. Fortunately, this book not only delivers, but it’s one that takes some of the best elements of Kelly’s writing — her knowledge of music, her well-voiced and true-to-age narrators, and a steady but pulsing pace — and amps them up just a little more. Jasmine is a strong and stubborn main character, and she takes a road in her life that’s scary and treacherous but one that I think so many teen readers will appreciate: she decides to follow her passion, rather than follow the path to college that she’s been told is the only way to success. We need more books that do this.
This book stands out because of Jasmine. She has a well-written voice, but more than that, she’s not a wallower. Never once does Jasmine worry about what she’s going to do when she’s in a city that’s new to her. Despite telling a few creative lies — some of which certainly impact her far worse than others — she’s very much the kind of girl who just takes care of things. When her car breaks down, she doesn’t pity herself. She gets it fixed. When she needs to find a job, she doesn’t worry too much about her pride; she does what she needs to do to make money (working in a boardwalk psychic shop probably wasn’t her ideal job post-high school) and she does what she needs to to make inroads with a local band. At one point in the story, Jasmine has to talk to her father because she’s found herself in an incredibly tough spot, but this kills her. She’d rather do anything that run back to her dad and ask for help, and this anguish really highlights the strength of self she has.
Kelly’s writing is tight, and the pacing in this book is spot-on. The book doesn’t drag, and I credit part of it to Jasmine being such a well-drawn character, but a lot of it has to do, too, with the infusion of beat in the book. Any book about music should have a beat to it, and this one does. It’s a careful balance of pulsing and pushing forward, especially when Jasmine is performing and is lost entirely within her music, with quieter sounds and reflection, which often happens while she is at her job at the psychic shop. The writing about music itself doesn’t weigh down the story but instead enhances it. I could hear Jasmine and C-Side throughout the story. Readers who appreciate music will appreciate the authority and authenticity with which this is written. Likewise, the writing doesn’t get bogged down in trying to be too literary or embellished, which made the story shine through. I’m not a one-sitting reader, but I got through Amplified in one sitting because it was easy to do. I was lost in the story and in Jasmine.
Though this story is about taking care of one’s self and pursuing one’s dreams, it’s also as much a story about relationships. Jasmine does everything for herself because she has to, but she’s not insensitive to those around her who are giving her a leg up when she needs it. There are people looking out for her, even when the truth unravels about her past and her experiences in performance. Where some members of C-Side were ready to kick her out of the band as soon as they discovered she had no performance experience (and doing so meant she’d also lose a place to live), she had an advocate or two on her side. When she needed a way to make a little money, she had someone there to give her the position at the psychic shop. Although this is in no way a message driven book, I think there is a well-delivered message that success is a mix of having the will to follow a dream but also being humble enough to accept help when it’s offered.
Amplified, I think, may be a stronger book than Harmonic Feedback, and I think it might have wider appeal. Fans of gritty, rock and roll style novels will appreciate this one. Jasmine’s probably one of the more realistic teens I’ve read, too, and I think she’ll be easy for many to connect to. This book will work well for your older and more mature middle school students (there aren’t really any situations to be too worried about, but the language is what you’d expect of 18 to 20-something musicians) and high school readers. This is an easy one to give to reluctant readers, but that doesn’t in any way suggest that your big readers won’t love this one. They will. As I mentioned, this is a story about a girl who took a non-traditional path after high school, and I think for many high school readers, these stories are immensely important. I applaud Kelly for tackling that gray area, and without doubt, she is becoming one of my go-to authors for her authenticity.
Review copy picked up at ALA. Amplified will be available October 25.