Bailey and her sister Julie were brought up on Bluegrass. Not just raised with an appreciation of the music, but taught to play and sing and carted around to festivals and stages across the country in hopes of picking up a record deal. It worked. But the record company only wanted one Mayfield girl on their label, and that was Julie. The girls’ parents agreed, and also promised that Bailey would give up her fiddle playing to prevent any competition with her sister’s career. To put enough pressure on Bailey to go along with it, and to keep her from hurting Julie’s career by splashing the Mayfield name in the tabloids with her drinking and promiscuity, they told Bailey that if they caught her getting into trouble (again) or playing a gig they’d withdraw any financial support for college.
But seriously, you’re going to instill a love of music in someone and then cut them off cold turkey? No way. It doesn’t work like that, at least, not for Bailey. Music isn’t just a hobby she used to have. It’s something that’s in her soul. She plays fiddle because she loves it. She writes songs because she has to get the words and music out of her head and onto paper in order to release the emotions trapped inside of her. Then she meets Sam. A handsome, manipulative, heartbreaker of a boy who says he needs Bailey. But does he need her the way a boy needs a girl, or the way a singer needs a rockabilly girl fiddle player for his band? Is it worth risking her heart, and her future, to find out?
Echols combines the usual teen novel fare – angst, sexual tension, coming-of-age, acting out, love triangles, etc. – with some truly unique plot elements and characters. Country music references are sprinkled heavily throughout this novel, which is set in the country music capital of Nashville, Tennessee. Both Sam and Amelia are proficient musicians, though the story doesn’t focus solely on that aspect of their personality. With conversations that delve into the psychology of why they are who they are, Echols adds depth and realism to each of her characters and lends believability to their actions. These are teens that stick with you, and by the end of the book I was ready to take a trip to Tennessee to see Redneck Death Wish in concert for myself.
Though there are other good teen-in-a-band books (Amplified by Kelly comes immediately to mind) I can’t think of another novel that tries to capture country music, its fans, or their passion for their subculture. If you’re not a fan of country music, don’t let this put you off. It’s very accessible. You’ll want to have Spotify or Pandora handy, though, so that you can hear the songs mentioned in Dirty Little Secret for yourself. You can even check out Jennifer Echols’ playlist on her website: http://jennifer-echols.com/dirtylittlesecret.html.