Where the Rhythm Takes You is Sarah Dass’ debut novel, and it joins the ranks of romance novels while being set in Tobago with scenes at Pigeon Point—the stuff postcards and dreams are made of. Through her protagonist Reyna, Dass shares her knowledge of Caribbean culture, cuisine, geography, and music as she explores the loss of a parent and the fear of following one’s dreams.

A gifted painter, Reyna has grown up surrounded by nature’s constant growing, dying, and changing while immersed in the family business of owning and operating a seaside resort hotel, the Plumeria.  Her mummy is a perfectionist and a taskmaster, but Reyna shares her love of Calypso Rose, the sound of Mummy’s roots. In fact, Reyna claims to love all music. Her playlists are “a mishmash of local calypso and soca, Jamaicain reggae and dancehall, a bit of Bollywood, and a ton of America’s hip-hop, R&B, and pop” (107). Created in Trinidad and Tobago in the 1970s, the music known as soca was meant to capture the Soul of Calypso, melodies that are joyful and uplifting. Dass shares a playlist at the close of the novel, featuring songs like “Iron Love” by Nailah Blackman.

Reyna and her first love interest, Aiden Chandra, blend a world of color and music. Twitching and tapping to a rhythm only he can hear, Aiden is rarely still. Many of their best memories feature the pair working on their latest projects together, following the stirrings of some inspiration. While Reyna would be lost in the act of pulling an image out of her head and putting it onto the page, Aiden would be strumming the guitar, creating melodies in the background. “In those days, so much of us bled into each other’s work. Artist and muse, we shared both roles, in constant collaboration” (126). For both of them, their art “expresses that which cannot be said, and on which it is impossible to be silent” (174). Unlike others who can simply witness beauty, Reyna and Aiden experience the urge to lose themselves in it, to pick it apart and replicate it.

When her mother dies, Reyna feels obligated to drop her own dreams to carry on her mother’s legacy. Because she is tied by loyalty, Reyna feels stuck and loses her inspiration to paint. “The very seas that inspired her need to paint were the same ones that cut off her means to seriously pursue art” (148). Meanwhile, her friends move on: Olivia, her bestie, will attend the University of London in the fall—fulfilling the dream they were supposed to share; and Aiden moves to California to find fame with the musical group DJ Bacchanal.

When Aiden’s famous friends design an inspirational trip to the seaside resort in the neighborhood where Aiden spent his childhood summers, they’re hoping to reignite his blocked creativity. Instead, friction ensues. Reyna is thrust into the fray by her father, who decides she needs to have fun and assigns her to be the group’s tour guide.

Carrying heavy regrets and swirling with a mixture of emotions: romantic angst, jealousy, and anger, Reyna is confused. That Aiden is sending mixed messages only adds to her emotional cocktail.

Through her two main characters, Dass inspires us all to follow our passions and to avoid wasting second chances: “If you’re doing something you don’t love, it’ll never be great because there will always be a piece of you holding back” (223).

  • Posted by Donna

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