our book club reads happy books!

The Travelling Blues

on September 6, 2012

A couple of years ago, a co-worker was looking for a book to take on a vacation to Chicago. I immediately suggested “The Time Traveller’s Wife”  by Audrey Niffennegger. I know if I ever visit Chicago, this is the book I will be re-reading . And I will definitely be visiting the Newberry Library, where Henry worked and  first met Clare (although she met him for the first time when she was six!). I may even use it as a travel guide, and visit some of Henry and Clare’s other favorite places.

Since then, the idea of reading a book that takes place in the city of my travel destination has intrigued me. However, I haven’t been too successful in implementing this plan for two reasons: I don’t travel very often and I always forget to pick out a book before I leave!

While preparing for my recent trip to Nashville, I thought this would be my chance – I would pick out a novel with a Nashville setting. I did a little research, but found a lot of detective stories I wasn’t interested in. Then I found a book called “Velva Jean Learns to Fly” by Jennifer Niven. It sounded good, about a young girl trying to make it in Nashville. But then I did a little more research and realized that it was a sequel to another novel, which was not set in Nashville. And I didn’t have time to read the first novel before leaving on the trip – foiled again! (And no, I do not have the capability to read the second book in a series first!)

But the books still sounded good to me, so I recently read the first book, “Velva Jean Learns to Drive”. I quickly discovered that this would have been the perfect book to take with me to Nashville. Though not set in Nashville, the Music City plays a very large role in this novel. And it would have answered the  question I posted in this blog post about who was the first person to think those colorful and sparkly costumes at the Country Music Hall of Fame were a good idea. I think the answer is probably someone who had been a little girl like Velva Jean, growing up in Appalachia, barefoot and wearing a patched and faded dress. A girl whose dream was to “be a singer at the Grand Ole Opry, with an outfit made of satin and rhinestones and a pair of high-heeled boots.”

“Velva Jean Learns to Drive” chronicles the challenges Velva Jean faces in the pursuit of her Nashville dream, from the ages of 10 through 18. The novel is set in the mountains of North Carolina in the late 30’s, during the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Which I had just read a little bit about while reading “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson). I thought this was a very good story with   fully developed  characters – no one was either all good or all bad. Just like life. And I liked Velva Jean and had faith in her. Even when the choices she made seemed wrong, I knew she would eventually get on the right road.

My favorite quote was this description of the feelings evoked when Velva Jean hears, for the first time, someone  playing the blues:

“I’d never heard music like that before. It was raw and angry and sweet all at once.  It made me think of a thunderstorm and lightning and the way I felt after a good cry. It made me think of bad women who lived in cities – women who rouged their bosoms –  of hobo jungles, of riding the rails. It made me think of mean corn liquor that didn’t leave a hangover. It made me think of running from a panther, of blood streaming down my leg, of a train wreck in the dark, dark night. I saw Danny Deal’s body lying cold under a blanket. I saw his bright yellow truck and me behind the wheel.”

I think that’s a pretty good description of the power music (or any art) has to move people. Incidently,  that quote it pretty much a synopsis of the book!

I also enjoyed the sweet relationship between Velva Jean and her brother, Johnny Clay, one that you don’t see often in novels (or at least I don’t).

Like “Saving CeeCee Honeycutt” and the novels of Lorna Landvik, this is a nice novel with a great sense of time and place. Velva Jean faces many challenges, but you know she will eventually persevere. And you know, once she learns to drive, exactly where she will be driving! I’m looking forward to reading her adventures in Nashville and beyond!


2 responses to “The Travelling Blues

  1. […] I just finished the novel “Velva Jean Learns to Fly” by Jennifer Niven. This is the sequel to “Velva Jean Learns to Drive“, which I wrote about in this post. […]

  2. […] Velva Jean Learns to Drive by Jennifer Niven. I loved Velva Jean and was happy to find such a likeable and plucky heroine to root […]

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