Sick of playing in a small-town cover band, Joni manages to convince her mother to allow her to move to New York to spend some time with her estranged father. Once there, she meets Phaedra, who introduces Joni to a new form of music and the original sound she’s been craving. But her father has different plans for his daughter – and might be in some trouble of his own.
I was drawn to Breaking Fellini because it’s a book about music in a sea of books about mythological creatures. But music can contain just as much magic as fantasy and M.E. Purfield has done a great job of writing a novel that fits with the music it describes.
Breaking Fellini is set in the late 1970s and depicts a New York that is struggling with a climate of unemployment and the fear surrounding the Son of Sam shootings. Amidst the poverty, however, the music scene is thriving. Disco and rock are ruling the mainstream, while the No Wave movement is beginning to turn all of the rules of blues-based music on their heads.
It is this New York that Joni moves to, and which greatly influences the feel of the novel. Purfield does not succumb to overly wordy descriptions, but there is, nonetheless, a strong sense of place and time that pervades every aspect of the story.
Breaking Fellini is a book about music, but it is also a coming-of-age story. Joni’s growth as a musician echoes her growth as a girl moving into adulthood and her independence in one aspect of her life is reflected in the other. Her relationship with her father is complex and often awkward. In many senses, she is the adult, and this only becomes more evident as the book progresses.
Indeed, at times I wondered whether Joni felt a little too mature for sixteen. I wasn’t a teenager in the 70s (or even born by the year in which the book is set), so it’s possible that things were different then, but I can’t imagine a sixteen-year-old musician being taken so seriously these days! On a similar note, I think that Breaking Fellini might actually resonate more with an adult audience than the Young Adult market, because the music scene it describes may prove more attractive to those who remember it. Certainly, there is definite crossover appeal here.
One thing I particularly enjoyed was the fact that Purfield has created a lesbian protagonist whose sexuality is secondary to her love of music. There is no romance here and no coming out process. Joni is simply a musician, daughter and friend who happens to be a lesbian as well.
Due to drug content and other adult themes, I would recommend Breaking Fellini to an older teen (and adult) audience. Strongly atmospheric – and yet firmly plot-driven – it is a clever examination of the growth of a musician and a musical movement.
(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)