Jazz Baby

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Jazz Baby
While all of Mississippi bakes in the scorching summer of 1925, sudden orphanhood wraps its icy embrace around Emily Ann "Baby" Teegarten, a pretty young teen.

Taken in by an aunt bent on ridding herself of this unexpected burden, Baby Teegarten plots her escape using the only means at her disposal: a voice that brings church ladies to righteous tears, and makes both angels and devils take notice. "I'm going to New York City to sing jazz," she brags to anybody who'll listen. But the Big Apple--well, it's an awful long way from that dry patch of earth she'd always called home.

So when the smoky stages of New Orleans speakeasies give a whistle, offering all sorts of shortcuts, Emily Ann soon learns it's the whorehouses and opium dens that can sidetrack a girl and dim a spotlight...and knowing the wrong people can snuff it out.

Jazz Baby just wants to sing--not fight to stay alive.
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The 1920’s, to me, symbolized a time of change, strife, speakeasies, jazz, gangsters, seedy nightclubs, and whorehouses that trapped young girls with little to no prospects. Beem Weeks’ Jazz Baby personifies that perfectly, bringing an undercurrent of darkness to an era that is often looked at as glamorous. But the jazz singers in their glitzy, sparkling gowns are just the tip of the iceberg. What lies under the surface? A stream, of course, a current that is often dangerous, sometimes murderous, and this leads to brokenness for all characters involved.

Emily Ann “Baby” Teegarten is a pretty young teen growing up in such an environment. And no other character is more broken than her. Orphaned, she is sent to live with her aunt, who wants to rid herself of this burden, and only takes her in because she feels a responsibility to care for her dead sister’s daughter. She’s family, after all, and needs to grow up to be a respectable member of society. Unfortunately, other people, like her dad’s friend, has other ideas, who wants to capitalize on Emily Ann’s great voice. Which is fine by her since she likes to sing jazz and wants to get out of Mississippi, a place she has called home all her life. She wants to travel to New York to be famous, but no one will take her. So, she’s forced to sing in New Orleans until that opportunity presents itself. And as she gets deeper into the seedy New Orleans life, meeting gangsters, child-rapists, and whorehouse Madams, you realize she might never get to go.

But not Emily Ann. No, her spirit is constantly alive, even while suffering under humiliating societal expectations. Her optimism is compelling.

Not every work is perfect. There are things that can always be fixed. But they’re little things. The thing that bothered me the most was she gets horny around everyone. Seriously, she can’t be alone in a room (or a car) with someone without feeling warm and slippery where it matters most to a woman(paraphrased), a phrase that is repeated too often for my taste. Whether it be strapping young men, negro girls, lesbians, or disgusting fat pigs (an attraction I never understood), nothing is taboo for her. I understand she is exploring her sexuality, but it got to be too overwhelming because the device is overused. He also repeats phrases, like the paraphrased one above, but that is negligible compared to everything the book has to offer.

So, what does it have to offer? Strong characters. An excellently crafted tale told from a unique perspective with a clear voice. Immersion. Atmosphere. Excellent writing with some good turns of phrases. Great dialogue. I felt like I was living the story right along with Emily Ann. I’ve read professional writers who don’t write this well. The biggest compliment I can give is I was studying his words, trying to perfect my own writing.

I can’t recommend this enough. Be warned, though: this is not a story for the faint of heart. It’s dark and gritty, filled with many sex scenes. If this offends you, you might want to look somewhere else. But if you can look past those issues, you will find a hidden gem worthy of your time.

Before I began reading this book I was warned that it was “gritty.” That was the exact word used. And the person who generously cautioned me was telling no lie. Oftentimes the story of the maturing Baby Teegarten made me cringe and my stomach churn. It had nothing to do with Beem Weeks’ writing style, but rather with the brutality young women were faced with during the 1920s.

The first person perspective allows readers to face Baby’s harrowing journey to making it big in a society that demeans girls and views them as commodities rather than human beings. Beem Weeks writes about broken dreams and the crushing weight of circumstance. While Baby has a vision of making it big in the northern United States, desperate for an escape from barren Mississippi, she is cut short and settles for the dark world of New Orleans speak easies. The real tragedy of the tale is that the summation of all the horrible events Baby experiences reflects the desperation some feel to escape, whether they are escaping a regrettable past or a home that never felt like home.

While I can’t say that this is a book I would read again, Beem Weeks’ writing skill is undeniable. I tend to prefer romance and stories that take me on an emotional journey that end in me ultimately feeling fulfilled and happy. When I finished this story I mostly felt dirty. But to accurately depict the tale of his protagonist, the author had no other way but to include those details for the sake of authenticity and perhaps even shock value. Returning to that warning I was given--Jazz Baby was a chilling and indubitably gritty approach to a coming of age story. —
Emily Ann Teegarten, known by the moniker "Baby," is both a victim of the times and a victim of her own circumstances. With a jazz sound viewed as a blessing (perhaps her way out of an desolate environment) and a curse (a voice seen by her closed minded community as belonging to the Devil), Teegarten is a young woman coming of age in 1920s Mississippi in Beem Weeks' book Jazz Baby.

I have to admit that when I first started reading this book and heard the name Baby, my mind immediately flashed to Patrick Swayze talking to Jennifer Grey in the 1987 movie "Dirty Dancing" and to that classic 1967 Chevy Impala also affectionately referred to as Baby in the current and longest running CW show "Supernatural." Yet, while Weeks' Baby may not know classic dance moves, she certainly wrestles with many demons plaguing her life.

Weeks writes in the first person which is quite an effective tool in enabling readers to gaze into Baby's soul. What we see is a girl with a fractured existence trying to survive heartache and betrayal and hoping that her aspirations as a singer will be her ticket to a better life.

There is courage in the story that Weeks tells for Baby's narrative is not for the faint of heart. Drugs, homophobia, racism, sexism and violence make frequent appearances throughout the story with dialogue that is likely to produce reader discomfort. Oftentimes, the language is so raw portraying a time that felt no shame in showing its bias. At the heart of it all is Baby who is constantly thrown into turmoil, a young woman who constantly sees the ugliness in people's hearts, yet must also find the beauty and hope in song.

For Baby, she wants to be the architect of her future and that future can't be found in the dismal Mississippi environment where she lives. I won't spoil the plot, but I will say that Baby is orphaned and this pain forces her to grow up quickly. There is particular irony that she is called Baby when she stands so closely to precipice of disaster that even adults wouldn't have the courage to face.

However, before Baby can make her way to New York and her dream of singing jazz in this acclaimed city, her life detours into the speak easy lifestyle of New Orleans where sex, drugs and violence sadly steals the innocence of a determined fighter so determined to construct a hopeful life for herself. It is very easy to become a cynic when life beats you down at every turn.

Along the way, Baby Teegarten is transformed into Emily Ann Teegarten. Her fight for survival, for life, is a suspenseful and heart pounding adventure for both her and the reader.

What I like about Weeks' writing style is that each sentence is like this marvelous union of description and emotion. The rawness of his language, I caution, is often painful especially for those of us who have actually experienced sexism or racism in our lives rather than explored it solely as a topic of academia. 1925 may have been several generations ago, but the issues that Weeks' broached are unfortunately very much alive and well in 2017.

If you're looking for a safe, easy read, Jazz Baby isn't for you. But if you're searching for a well-written, thought-provoking examination of a time and place, balancing the difficulties of society against the courage of a strong woman, then I highly recommend Jazz Baby. Further, I will add, if you feel angry at all that Baby must endure when you read this book, then please thank Beem Weeks for I truly believe that this is the true testament of a skilled writer who has thoroughly excelled at his job as a storyteller. I give Jazz Baby a Gold Book Worm Rating.

From the opening lines, Beem Weeks' lyrical prose jumps off the page and implants itself in your heart and mind. He writes beautifully and vividly, which for some of the topics tackled, not always easy for the reader.

I enjoyed getting to know the characters and the scenery of New Orleans and southwestern Mississippi. Although songs were never spelled out for us, I felt like I heard Emily Ann's voice nonetheless. At times Emily Ann annoyed me, but mostly the story moved through her realistically and the annoyances were in line with the way the story moved.
Beem Weeks is a talented writer whose skill with dialogue and setting will pull you into the 1920’s poverty of the Deep South and will not let you go until the end. The pace of Jazz Baby moved a bit too fast for me at times, as I kept hoping for more reflection and depth from protagonist Baby Teegarten about everything that was happening to her. There is a real sense of tragedy at the heart of this story, as such a young girl is more often seen as an object to be used and abused by others for their pleasure and monetary gain, than for her talent. Although there were glimpses of character complexity at times, as Baby moved from one tragedy and heartache to the next, I felt the author narrowly missed the opportunity for the reader to gain real insight into just who Baby really is, and how each of these events shaped her along the way. That personal preference aside the author captured a unique time and place, and touched on many of the relevant issues of racial divide, drugs, and violence, that we still experience today almost 100 years later. If for no other reason read this novel for the truly extraordinary writing; I will certainly be happy to read anything Mr. Weeks writes in the future.
This book was a little graphic and dirty for my taste. I prefer a sweet love story … but the writing was so incredible, I couldn’t put it down! Practically every other sentence was sprinkled with personification in a way that I have never encountered, and I’ve read many books. The author had a way of pulling you into the story so seamlessly you could almost “feel” everything that was happening to the characters. The biggest surprise to me was that the author is a man and he wrote the story from the perspective of a young girl coming into womanhood better than most women could have told it!

I would definitely check out other books by this author simply because I recognize superb writing when I see it. Great job!
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