Rhythm and Muse

Rhythm and Muse
Age Range
Release Date
May 30, 2023
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Cinderella meets Cyrano in this pitch-perfect YA rom-com that is a celebration of Black joy, first crushes, and putting your heart on the line for love.
Darren Johnson lives in his head. There, he can pine for his crush—total dream girl, Delia Dawson—in peace, away from the unsolicited opinions of his talkative family and showboat friends. When Delia announces a theme song contest for her popular podcast, Dillie D in the Place to Be, Darren’s friends—convinced he’ll never make a move—submit one of his secret side projects for consideration.

After the anonymous romantic verse catches Dillie’s ear, she sets out to uncover the mystery singer behind the track. Now Darren must decide: Is he ready to step out of the shadows and take the lead in his own life? 

Editor review

1 review
YA Romance with Upper Middle Grade Appeal
(Updated: June 08, 2023)
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Darren loves music, but in his junior year, he is pulling back a bit, since it doesn't seem to be a productive use of his time. He's dropped out of chorus and even his church choir, although his school counselor tells him he should stay with it if it gives him joy. What gives him the most joy is classmate Delia Dawson, who has a popular podcast, Dillie D. in the Place to Be. Since he thinks she is so fantastic, he gets tongue tied around her, although they do seem to share some interests and attend the same church. When she announces a contest for a theme song for her podcast, Darren makes one up, and when he is in a recording studio with his friend Justin and cousin Jerrod, he uses some of the time to record it. Of course, his friends send it in anonymously, and it gets a lot of attention, even being played on the radio by local DJs who note the local interest in it. Darren still doesn't want to tell Dillie how he feels, even though others are claiming that the song is theirs. Dillie seems to like it, and the two spend more and more time together. He almost asks her to the dance, and rumor has it that the mystery singer will reveal himself there, so he chickens out. Bouyed by his secret success, Darren rejoins chorus, and even sings a new song for Dillie at the dance. What are his chances of being number one on Dillie's charts?

Good Points
This was a bit of a departure for Hill Brown, whose middle grade books The Forgotten Girl and The Girl in the Lake are horror novels with some history to them. It was great to see more of a middle grade sensibility applied to a young adult romance for several reasons. Young adult romances tend to be whinier and unhappier than middle grade ones, so I half expected Dillie to decide to hate Darren once she found out that he kept information from him. Also, YA often includes saltier language as well as alcohol drinking and more descriptive, interpersonal romantic encounters. These are fine for older students, but it was great to see a high school character in situations were younger students aren't necessarily going to learn any life lessons they have plenty of time for later!

Darren is a great character who is trying to balance his friendships, his future, and his family along with his overwhelming crush on Dillie. I loved his interactions with Justin, who is trying to push his friend a little bit, and Darren's parents were deliciously embarassing and in love. They were involved in what Darren was doing, but still in the background. Dillie is popular but truly interested in Darren, and they spend a lot of time together having coffee, hanging out, and texting, so they do have a real connection. A lot of young people's social lives depend heavily on church groups, so it was good to see that depicted.

Social media is well handled, with Clip Message being used as a Snap Chat alternative. It's a hard balance, since some social media does disappear. Using a made up platform can protect books from being outdated when things like MySpace disappear. Of course, for the average 14 year old, MySpace might as well be a fictional platform!

It's a bit harder to find romance books with male protagonists, although there are a growing number of YA and middle grade romances with gay male characters. It's even harder to find ones that don't spend half the book wallowing in a fight or misunderstaning. This reminded me a bit of Rigaud's Simone Breaks all the Rules, or Richardson's The Meet-Cute Project, since Darren and Dillie are friends, and treat each other as equals. I love that Hill Brown mentions that she saw a lack of stories with "a teenage, Black male protagonist" and wanted to write something joyful. Well done!
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