Book review: ‘Somebody Everybody Listens To’ by Suzanne Supplee

For Retta Lee Jones, the town of Starling, Tennessee has never been big enough to house her dreams. Fresh from high school graduation and sweating over a stove at a low-end diner job, Retta’s been talking about leaving town and heading to Nashville, guitar in hand, for as long as she can remember. But when push comes to shove, she isn’t sure she’s brave enough to leave Starling, her pucker-faced mama and quiet, hard-working daddy behind.

But at the prodding of her best friend Brenda, Retta is able to secure transporation (her elderly aunt’s old car) and a means to communicate (a cell phone shoved in her hand by Brenda). With little more than $500 in hand, Retta heads to Nashville to sing.

She’s grown up reading about all the pros, of course. Retta knows she can’t just waltz down to Music Row, busk for a while and suddenly get a contract. But she’s willing to do what she has to — including sleeping in her car — to try and make a name for herself . . . until fate might have other plans.

Suzanne Supplee’s Somebody Everybody Listens To is 18-year-old Retta’s story of digging deep and finding the courage to do the scary thing — the unsafe thing — even when everything in the world seems to be telling you not to attempt it. 

The novel opens with a quote from country superstar Dolly Parton: “You’ll never do a whole lot unless you’re brave enough to try.” And bravery is a definite requirement of this adventure. A series of mishaps immediately make her life in Nashville harder, and the idea of a girl traveling to a city alone with so little cash and no real plan made my stomach churn. I’m a type-A obsessive worrier, see, and a planner. And Retta lacked a plan. How does one just hop into an old car, hit the open road and leave her family and friends behind her? The girl didn’t even have a place to sleep. And if it hadn’t been for Ricky Dean, a kind tow truck driver and mechanic, she’d have been unemployed, broke, beat-up and hopeless.

Basically, I spent the entire novel waiting for something terrible to happen to her. It seemed hopelessly naive that someone would just cruise into Nashville with nothing but their dreams and an old guitar to keep them going, but I guess people . . . do. It’s a world with which I’m not familiar, I’ll say that, but if Supplee’s writing about it, I’m going to assume young people head to Tennessee fueled only by ambition all the time.

I read (and adored) Supplee’s Artichoke’s Heart last year. Rosie, the narrator, was such a charming, real and relatable character — someone I loved and rooted for from day one. Unfortunately with her latest novel, I didn’t ever feel an emotional connection to Retta or feel invested in what happened to her. Part of me was actually angry, as I mentioned, that she’d be so cavalier and wanton, drifting where the wind — and her music — took her.

But maybe I’m just a dream destroyer.

Overall, a decent novel about ambition and never giving up, even when the odds are (more than) stacked against you. I wish I’d been more in tune with Retta, though I did enjoy reading about the “behind the scenes” aspects of the music industry — and a subplot involving her parents and the dreams they sacrificed added a little dimension to the story. But if you’re new to Supplee? Pick up Artichoke’s Heart first, one of my favorite reads of 2009.

3 out of 5!

ISBN: 0525422420 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

9 thoughts on “Book review: ‘Somebody Everybody Listens To’ by Suzanne Supplee

  1. I agree with you. I can’t imagine just hoping into a car and moving to another city with no plan. When I moved to DC, I had a job, but no place to live. However, my father was here helping me move, and I had a concrete plan to find housing.

    I worry, too, about what will happen if I don’t have a plan.


  2. I have to admit, the premise of this one doesn’t sound nearly as good to me as Artichoke’s Heart. I have a feeling I”d react very similarly to you.


  3. Artichoke’s Heart has been on my TBR list for way too long… and I didn’t even realize Supplee released another book! Thanks for the info.

    It’ll probably be difficult for me to relate to this book though since I’m such a worrier and I need a plan for everything. There’s no way I’m going to pack my bags and drive across the country to pursue my dream without a plan in tow.


  4. I’m a planner and while non-planners can drive me crazy with unease, I envy them at the same time. I can’t imagine being able to just pick up and take off to a new place without an inkling of what awaits. The music aspect of this book appeals to me, so I would definitely read it if I happened to come across it. But it’s not one that I would deliberately go pick up.


  5. You had me at the word “Tennessee.” Then again at “Nashville.” And especially at “Dolly Parton.”

    And then you DESTROYED MY DREAMS!

    Just playin’, I’m gonna read it anyway because I love reading anything and everything relating to my hometown. Yayyyy, Nashville!


  6. As you know, I adored Artichoke’s Heart too and I’ll be reading this one. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this one as much though. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that maybe I’ll like it better, although like Amanda, I don’t find the premise as interesting. Pretty cover though.


Comments are closed.