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The Year the Music Changed: The Letters of Achsa McEachern & Elvis Presley Hardcover – September 8, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Fictional letters between the up-and-coming Elvis Presley and Achsa J. McEachern, a precocious 14-year-old fan, make up Thomas's fanciful debut novel. Born with a disfiguring cleft palate, only child Achsa is a devoted listener to late-night WDDO, Daddy-O Radio 1360 in Atlanta. On Feb. 2, 1955, she writes her first fan letter to Presley, who at first mistakes her for a man. Presley, at 20, is just emerging on the radio circuit, soon to sign with Sun Records and take a screen test in Hollywood. For over a year, the pen pals (she calls him "Dearest Elvis"; he calls her "Baby Girl") share their mutual admiration for James Dean, their secret shames and dreams and their devotion to (and annoyance with) their mothers (Presley's is overprotective, while Achsa's is at odds with her insanely jealous husband). Achsa reveals her feelings of social exclusion at school while Presley confesses to sinful temptations on the road. Achsa's letters are long and thoughtful; Presley, in turn, comes off as an aw-shucks, God-fearing kid (with really bad grammar) who wants to sing gospel music and make people happy. Thomas has delved into Presley biographies, communed with his fans on the Internet and produced a warm, lively and immensely readable novel that will especially touch fans of "the King." (Sept.)
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Review

"'The Year the Music Changed may engrave itself into the memories of more readers than "To Kill a Mockingbird." . . . .  [It's] the most satisfying novel I've read in many years." —Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sept. 4, 2005

"Warm, lively and immensely readable." —Publishers Weekly, June 27, 2005

"Sweet and gripping. . . . A touching coming-of-age tale." —Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2005

"A touching, funny, tender exchange between two people trying to find their way through thorny emotional terrain. Highly recommended." —Library Journal **Starred Review** June 2005

"I think it's terrific." —bestselling author Pat Conroy, "What I'm Reading," in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 2, 2006.
 
"A nearly impossible feat of the creative imagination, defying the stigma of epistolary fiction and, better, defying the overpowering cliche of Elvis Presley." —Raleigh News-Observer, October 2005
 
"Does the world need another book about Elvis? Maybe so, if it's as good as The Year the Music Changed. Thomas pulls off the novel with panache." —Columbus [Ohio] Dispatch

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 244 pages
  • Publisher: The Toby Press (September 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592641229
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592641222
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,281,632 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Susan E. Flemming on February 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
It is not often that I come across a book so engrossing that I read it cover to cover in one sitting, but I did this one.

Diane Thomas offers us a glimpse into the South of the mid 1950s. The letters Achsa McEachern writes to the then rising music star, Elvis Presley, start out as fan letters, but quickly become heart-touching and often heart-wrenching descriptions of her private inner life and that of her family's. The letters Elvis writes back to Achsa help to anchor the book in place and time, while providing us with an interesting new perspective on what it might have been like to be that rising star in the days before he became trapped in the prison of his own Superstardom.

I was a teen of the 70s but in Achsa, I could see myself. I wrote long, long letters to far away friends pouring out all the changes that were happening in my life; changes that I didn't always understand and that I felt helpless to control. I think many young women will find a piece of themselves in Achsa.

And for anyone whose mother came of age during the fifties, as mine did, this book would make a wonderful birthday or Mother's Day gift.

It is a fast, intensely satisfying read and I highly recommend it.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Christena Bledsoe on September 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is not the '50s of happy, nostalgia TV, but the real decade, mired with repression. It's an outwardly placid time of perky stay-at-home housewifes, crew-cut husbands marching off to 9 to 5's, and children expected to be "well adjusted." Conformity is the gold standard. Segregation is the law of the land. Free thinking is frowned upon and feared. Into this picture comes Achsa, a lonely teenager who is different and can't pretend otherwise. She's younger and far brighter than her classmates--Lord, she has been promoted three, count them THREE grades; she bears an ugly facial scar; and there's trouble at home. But the year is 1955. Currents of change as jagged as electricity are about to course through the air.

When Achsa writes her first fan letter, to a young Elvis, destined to shake up the country with rock 'n roll, she embarks on her own journey of change. In the ensuing correspondence between Achsa and Elvis, Achsa comes haltingly to terms with her world, while yearning for life on a larger stage. A sensitive reed, she grabs the spotlight in the book more than "the King." In one scene, for instance, she tells Elvis of an early memory of going to a movie matinee. Leaving her seat to go upstairs to the ladies' room, she hears a distant "rustling or murmuring, like birds settling down for the night." Pretending the mezzanine carpet is a river and its "fat, red roses" are stepping stones, she crosses to the far side of theatre, where the rustling comes from. Ignoring a sign that the area is closed, she slips around a velvet cord, climbs concrete stairs, and finds an entire other theatre where the aisles aren't carpeted, the seats aren't upholstered, and "all the people in the seats" are "Negroes.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Loves to Read on August 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In letters written in 1955 and early 1956 between a shy 14-year-old girl and Elvis Presley, Diane Thomas captures the essence of the 1950s. Elvis, very young and very innocent, is on the cusp of his success. We share his dreams of what he will become; those dreams touch us not only because of their purity, but also because we know how they really turned out. His story, however, is eclipsed by Achsa's, her fears, her tragedies and, ultimately, her triumphs. She pours out her torment over the tension between her religious father and her beautiful mother, her humiliation because of the disfiguring scar on her lip, her success as a budding playwright and actress. We celebrate her courage as she faces tragedy, learns from it and triumphs over it. I recommend this beautifully written novel to anyone who cares about the human condition.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Faithful Reader on October 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
My 97-year-old mother (who was certainly not an Elvis fan) loved the book, said she couldn't put it down. My 15-year-old granddaughter (who is a Nirvana fan and thought Elvis was "old-fashioned") loved the book, my 64-year-old sister (who was a big Elvis fan in 1956) loved the book, and I (who was Elvis' contemporary and NOT a fan) loved the book. We loved it because of its truth. The heart of the story belongs not to Elvis but to a 14-year-old girl and her struggle to cope with her disfigured lip, a mother who is movie-star beautiful, a father whose religion borders on the fanatical. Ultimately she understands - and embraces - her own place in the world. Beautifully written, highly recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Donna Mabry on September 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Diane Thomas is a gifted writer, who has given us a gem of a coming-of-age novel. The voice of the 14 year old heroine rings clear and true as she deals with ostracism, her parents' foreboding relationship and past, and her yearnings for a better world. Uniquely written as letters between the precocious heorine and an emerging Elvis Presley, the book masterfully captures the 1950's, but also presages the social revolution to come and the power of rock idols to shape later generations. While those of us coming of age in the mid-50's can readily relate to the story, this work deals with feelings that transcend the decades. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves a delightful, resonant, page-turning read, and I'd like to nominate it for Oprah's list--it deserves to be there, it's that good!
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