July 8, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Kris Dinnison's You and Me and Him is an impressive YA novel filled with fully realized characters and a heartwarming plot.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Dinnison adeptly portrays the rising and falling hopes within an unconventional love triangle...Readers will follow [Maggie] eagerly as she finds her voice and identity."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
This book started with a scribble in my notebook: "A girl who works in a record store." When I started writing the book, I asked myself: Who is this girl? Why does she work there? What music does she put on when her boss isn't around? When I was in high school that would have been the coolest job to have. But today, music stores hardly exist, and someone who works in one is the outsider, the weirdo. I was part of a dying breed of high school students who listened to vinyl. By the time I was a senior, cassettes and boomboxes were already taking over, and then CDs, and now everything is portable and digital. So I found myself asking, "What era of music fills the bins of this store?" As those songs emerged they both framed my main character, Maggie, and helped tell the story through both mood and lyrics.
REM: "The End of the World As We Know It"
A story begins with the event that changes the main character's world and makes it so they can never go back to the life they had before. Using this song toward the beginning of the novel was a bit of an inside joke. This scene is where everything changes for Maggie, even though she doesn't know it yet. I also love how frantic it is. When Maggie and her friends dance to it, there's total abandon in the cocoon of the record store, (which is called Square Peg); this is where she feels safe.
The Smiths: "This Charming Man"
This is one of my favorite Smiths songs, and I am a fan from way, way back. I love the way they pair dark lyrics with jangly guitars and frantic beats, or how they put melancholy chords with more optimistic lyrics (although with the Smiths the optimism is always relative). Tom, the new kid Maggie and her friend both fall for, is a sort of serial charmer. He's moved a lot so he's developed some good first impression skills that usually get him through to the next move. When you really look at the lyrics of this song, they run a bit darker than Tom's character, but the chorus works as a cue for Maggie and for readers of who they've encountered in the story.
Billie Holiday: "Embraceable You"
I listened to a lot of Billie Holiday in my teens. She was so soulful and the lyrics seemed to express exactly what I was feeling as an angsty teen longing to connect with people like me. My roommate in college used to gauge my mood by the music I had on. She always said Billy Holiday was a bad sign, but I never felt that melancholy when I listened to her. Her music was soothing in a way. I actually first heard this song when Linda Rondstadt did it with Nelson Riddle in the 80s. Billie's version is so much more raw and sad, but still hopeful in a strange way. "Embraceable You" was actually one of the titles the book had as it worked its way to publication.
Hall and Oates: "Maneater"
This is the song Maggie's boss, Quinn, puts on when the popular girl who's after Tom comes into Square Peg. She's not really a maneater, but it cracked Quinn up to use it there. I will say Hall and Oates are a part of my musical past I rarely talk about. The 80s were a strange time for me and for music, and I was strangely drawn to their beats, but also vaguely uncomfortable with them as actual humans. Let's call it a guilty pleasure, or the misguided taste of youth, but I cannot deny that I listened to them.
Three Dog Night: "One"
My dad had a reel-to-reel tape player that he must have only used in that brief period between being a college student and becoming a father. I remember it sitting in our garage, hooked up to speakers, but never used except by my brother and I, and I'm pretty sure we weren't supposed to touch it. A small stack of reel-to-reel tapes stood beside the gigantic player. The two I remember were Janis Joplin and Three Dog Night. So the first time I heard this song was in my garage with my brother when my age was still in single digits. It always haunted me a bit, especially the lyric "two can be as bad as one/it's the loneliest number since the number one." To my kid's literal mind that seemed impossible. Eventually I understood that you sometimes feel loneliest when you're with other people but not connected to them in the way you want to be. Maggie plays this song when she is at her lowest, when the people she counted on have utterly misunderstood her at the most basic level.
Billie Holiday: "'Taint Nobody's Business"
If the book has a theme, this is probably it. While I'm definitely uncomfortable with some of the domestic abuse lyrics in this song ("I'd prefer my man would hit me/than he would up and quit me.") I think it's the idea that you have to make your own choices without regard to other people's opinions that resonates for me. You can worry your whole life about what other people think, or you can live your life and let the criticism wash over you and fall away.
The Kinks: "Everybody's Gonna Be Happy"
I love the Kinks. I know there's a kind of false duality in music that you are either a Beatles person or a Rolling Stones person, but I am neither. I am a Kinks person. I end the book with this song because I love happy endings, but also because the minor chords in the song belie the idea that this happiness is a permanent condition. I think Maggie earns her happy ending, but even she recognizes it's tinged with a little sadness; it's a transitory state.
Kris Dinnison and You and Me and Him links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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