My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Length: 336 pages
Release date: 3 May 2018
Alexia Falls is eighteen, living in her parents’ New York penthouse and working with superstar boyband The Keep. But with her heart set on independence and a career behind the camera, she trades it all for a take-it-or-leave-it internship at London’s Bright Star Productions.
There, she meets fellow intern Greta. Greta’s East End upbringing couldn’t have been more different from Alexia’s, but she’s every bit as hungry for her big break.
But both girls have secrets.
While Alexia doesn’t want anyone knowing about her privileged connection to The Keep, Greta has been anonymously running their #1 social fan-feed since she was at school. And when the gossip columns somehow get news of the band’s latest scandals, suspicions and accusations start flying…
Real art demands integrity. But staying in the music business requires the opposite. Can you stay true to yourself when your heart follows a secret beat?
“Granny parted the crowd like a boat cutting through water. ‘COMING THROUGH!’ she boomed, as the young fans hastily made way for this doddery old lady who was heaving and puffing like she might keel over and die at any moment. She winked at Greta, who knew that this was a tried and tested trick.”
The kind of unassuming humour above is one of the best features of A Secret Beat. Combined with Rebecca Denton’s career experience in media, the result is an entertaining venture into the music industry that doubles up as an emotionally resonant coming-of-age tale.
In brief, this is a book about friendship, staying true to yourself and doing the right thing. Despite the strength of the relationship between Alexia and Greta, Denton doesn’t need to spend much time writing in sappy declarations of the protagonists’ feelings. Their connection is apparent in between the lines, through hectic weeks of work filming on set and managing the talent. Maybe a little more focus could have been placed on developing their friendship–the plot skips quite quickly–but what’s given is more than enough to appreciate its complexities.
It has to be acknowledged that Alexia can be extremely unlikeable. At times, it beggars belief that readers should still sympathise with the rich, entitled white girl who grew up on daddy’s money as she complains about the hardships of her life. In certain scenes, her behaviour had me close to chucking the book out the nearest window. (Figuratively, as I don’t hate my Kindle that much.) I wouldn’t say that Alexia ever fully redeems herself within the timespan of the novel, as people don’t change instantaneously, but she does impressively take responsibility for her mistakes and seek to become better. That’s what ultimately makes her somebody we can root for.
Greta, on the other hand, begins as a bit of an enigma. You don’t know if she’s supposed to be charming or uncomfortable, but once you get to know her well, she’s impossible not to like. Greta doesn’t beat out her granny though, who’s hands down the awesomest character of the bunch.
Then there’s the matter of A Secret Beat being flat out funny. Greta’s effusive, bubbly personality is contagious, and Alexia’s snarky disenchantment has its own perks. Add in a few well-timed mishaps and a bucketload of chemistry, and the wit flies off the page. This is a comedy, after all–regardless of how grim things seem, the HEA makes it all worthwhile.
The electric cast of supporting characters jumps to life in admirable realism. Alongside Greta’s legendary granny, there’s Mr Coleman, Alexia’s landlord, Karen, head of Bright Star Productions’s factual team, and many others whose little quirks and moments of personality make everything better. In fact, with its mild awkwardness and maturing of its main characters, the whole story feels like it could take place in real life. That can’t be said of the majority of YA novels, even purportedly realistic contemporaries.
For readers like myself who are unfamiliar with the behind-the-scenes of music and media, Bright Star Productions will additionally be a fascinating foray into the fast-paced, oftentimes dirty world behind the glitz and glamour. A Secret Beat feels true to its characters when it balances a refusal to pan the entire industry with a willingness to expose its dirty bits. London, with its cosmopolitan outlook and colourful culture, is naturally the perfect location for this venture into showbiz.
There’s a lot going on in A Secret Beat, from the lighthearted banter to the much heavier realisations about ethics, independence and friendship. Recommended to anyone who wants a fun novel infused with pop culture and music that also incorporates a great deal of relevant YA/NA themes.
*Thanks to Little, Brown Book Group UK and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*