What You Do To Me

  • Review
By – October 18, 2023

What You Do to Me is a sto­ry of love lost and found, and the ways in which des­tiny and fate con­nect us to one anoth­er. Alter­nat­ing between two per­spec­tives, the nov­el begins in the present day, with Cecil­ia James reflect­ing on her career as a music jour­nal­ist. We then go back to 1996, when she is a low­ly intern at Rolling Stone who car­ries out unglam­orous tasks — fetch­ing cof­fee, fact-check­ing, and run­ning errands — while hon­ing her report­ing skills and wait­ing for her big break as a music jour­nal­ist. Her boyfriend, Pete, is a pho­tog­ra­ph­er, and while she loves him, she loves the thrill of find­ing her next sto­ry more. When Cecil­ia is in Mia­mi cov­er­ing the Orange Bowl, she runs into a woman who drops a piece of paper that turns out to be the sheet music to one of the world’s best-known love songs, What You Do to Me.”

The nov­el then flash­es fur­ther back, to 1979. Sara Friedman’s big, bois­ter­ous, deeply reli­gious fam­i­ly spends their sum­mers and Jew­ish hol­i­days in Mia­mi. She has grown up with Eddie San­ti­a­go, the grand­son of their building’s care­tak­er; and when they are in their teens, their attrac­tion to each oth­er grows. Because Sara’s fam­i­ly would nev­er approve of her being with a non-Jew, they must meet in secret. To find ways to be togeth­er with­out get­ting caught, they devise a code — writ­ten in music.

At the Orange Bowl, Cecil­ia is stunned to dis­cov­er that the sheet music was writ­ten by the elu­sive Eddie Vee (once called Eddie San­ti­a­go), who, fol­low­ing a trag­ic acci­dent at a con­cert, hasn’t been seen or heard from in years. Is the woman who dropped it Eddie’s muse, whom the music indus­try and world has tried to iden­ti­fy for twen­ty years? As Cecil­ia attempts to track down Eddie, and Sara, and fig­ure out where it all went wrong, she is con­front­ed with her own rela­tion­ships — not just with Pete, but also with her father and the mem­o­ry of her moth­er — and forced to fig­ure out who she is and what she tru­ly wants.

Rochelle B. Wein­stein paints a beau­ti­ful pic­ture of a Jew­ish fam­i­ly wrestling with moder­ni­ty and assim­i­la­tion. This is a per­fect book for any­one who believes in the pow­er of love and sec­ond chances. 

Jes­si­ca Sender is an aca­d­e­m­ic librar­i­an at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­si­ty. She has worked in pub­lic and aca­d­e­m­ic libraries, and in her free time enjoys run­ning, bik­ing, real­i­ty TV, and explor­ing Michigan. 

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