Review: Cynthia Starts A Band by Olivia Swindler
An adorable, funny, heartbreaking story about a girl determined to reclaim her life – Cynthia Starts A Band was a lovely and authentic story that will resonate with a lot of readers. Rating: 5/5
EVEN AMERICA’S SWEETHEART POP-SUPERSTAR HAS TROUBLE FINDING THEIR VOICE IN THE HEARTBREAKINGLY HONEST DEBUT NOVEL FROM OLIVIA SWINDLER
Eleanor Quinn lives a life most young girls dream of. She’s the lead singer of a wildly successful band, dating the most beautiful man in America, and in love with her life on tour. She pours her heart into every song she writes and genuinely enjoys connecting with fans. So, when she disappears after her fiance’s fairy-tale perfect proposal on stage, the world is shocked. Worse yet, he starts telling interviewers that Eleanor is crazy –possibly even a danger to herself and those around her. As the weeks go by, the world wants to know: Who is Eleanor Quinn really?
But Eleanor needs to find that out for herself.
Broken and filled with self-doubt after the proposal, Eleanor embarks on a journey to regain agency in her life. She needs to reconnect with the Ellie Quinn underneath pop sensation “Eleanor Quinn.” Determined to find herself again, she moves in with her cousin in Seattle, picks a new name, and enrolls in a local university’s writing class. But she starts to realize that running away and starting over isn’t as easy as it seems in movies. Crushed by self-doubt and subconscious fears, ghosts from her past refuse to leave her alone. She realizes the only way forward is to share her version of the past.
Olivia Swindler’s debut novel embraces the values of family, empowerment, and healing and draws on the #metoo movement. Reminiscent of Evvie Drake Starts Over (Linda Holmes) and Searching for Sylvie Lee (Jean Kwok), Cynthia Starts a Band tells the story of starting over, discovering who you are whenthe world isn’t looking, and summoning the courage to be honest with yourself and the world
Cynthia Starts A Band is the story of Eleanor Quinn, lead-singer of the massively popular band Kittaning. She’s famous enough that she’s in all the tabloids, and their albums are hitting number one on Spotify. If we were to compare Eleanor to a real artist out today…. maybe Selena Gomez? Maybe Halsey? Not necessarily the biggest artist of her generation, but wildly popular. I say this, to really make my thoughts on this book clear. But before that, some more backstory. Eleanor’s management demands she engage in a fake, PR relationship with her bandmate Art Bishop. Not only is Art her bandmate, but they despise each other. It’s been hard enough to pretend they get along, let alone to start pretending they were in love. But this is what the label wants, and they have no choice.
The book starts with Eleanor running away from the band for good, and the rest of the story alternates between the months leading up to Eleanor’s departure, and the present day, where she is hiding out in Seattle disguised as a college student named Cynthia. Normally I don’t enjoy when books go back and forth between past and present, or alternate between character perspectives, but I feel like Olivia Swindler did an amazing job at this and it really added to the story. The suspense built all the way through, and so did my hatred for Art Bishop. I went to school for music business, and I’ve always wanted to work in the industry. Reading this really reminded me why I lost my love for it – everything is fake. Management companies do this to their talent all the time. Co-Stars have to pretend to date to improve box office numbers. Musicians conveniently start dating just in time for both of their albums to drop. It happens all of the time, and the general public eats it up. In Cynthia Starts A Band, we got a really authentic and genuine look at how these relationships work behind the scenes, and how hard it can be to escape if it goes wrong. As fans, we are all guilty of “shipping” or favorite artists, and I don’t think we always take into consideration how harmful we can be when we treat these real people as though they are just characters in a play.
Aside from the industry outlook, I also fell in love with the characters. I think Olivia did an amazing job at fully fleshing out each character so that they could stand on their own and each have a unique voice. I love that she leaned into the #MeToo movement without using it as a crutch. I really felt like I could see each character existing in real life. As each chapter went on, I felt more and more infuriated for Eleanor and what she had to deal with. As a woman in this world, as a woman in media, and as a woman who was being mentally and emotionally abused. And truly, I wanted more. I would have loved another 100-200 pages about the aftermath at the end, or about watching Eleanor move on as a solo artist. I think it ended perfectly, but I had fallen in love with so many of these characters and wasn’t ready to let them go yet. So with that, absolutely, 5 stars.
Olivia Swindler was raised in Spokane, Washington but currently resides in Grenoble, France, as the Communication Coordinator for Young Life in Europe. She spends most of her spare time wandering through the mountains and eating her weight in bread.
Olivia believes that through fiction we can learn and grow from one another because there is something magical about picking up a book and allowing it to transport you someplace new. Cynthia Starts a Bandis her debut novel. She hopes it will create and foster hard, real-life conversations, inspiring readers to have the courage to discover who they are when the world isn’t looking