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⭐️ Book Review: Every Time You Hear That Song by Jenna Voris

Every Time You Hear That Song is not about Dolly Parton. And yet, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that its loose connection to the country icon (and living saint!) is what made me pick up Jenna Voris' new book in the first place. Sure, this book is getting a lot of buzz and starred reviews galore. And those things definitely put this YA romance/mystery on my radar, but the truth is, Dolly is what ultimately hooked me. In a recent interview, Voris recalled hearing a story about Dolly Parton’s “dream box” - a time capsule that contains a never released, previously unheard, Dolly Parton song. Dolly has locked the time capsule away and given strict instructions that it not be opened until her 100th birthday in 2046. This story made Jenna Voris imagine that day, 22 years in the future. The world gathers to open Dolly's time capsule, anxious to discover a new song, long after she's stopped recording. But what if... what if the dream box was empty???

What if, indeed!

Told from alternating points of view, Every Time You Hear That Song traces two journeys, both of which begin in the fictional town of Mayberry, Arkansas. First we meet Darren Purchase: a queer, 17-year-old, high school student, and budding journalist, who wants nothing more than to escape Mayberry - a town where she feels trapped, misunderstood and utterly alone amongst (what she perceives as) her homogenous neighbors. While she dreams of attending college in a big city and leaving Mayberry squarely in her rearview mirror, she also knows those dreams are unrealistic. Not only has Darren’s mother’s battle with cancer put them in financial peril, but the two are also incredibly close - building a life together after Darren’s dad leaves, finding comfort and connection in the songs of local hero, and country music legend/elder, Decklee Cassel. 

Having grown up in Mayberry, Arkansas herself, Decklee Cassel is a local legend and international super star. Her music is known the world over, she’s won every award possible and is a household name. But for Mayberry residents, she’s the local girl who made good. Although a generation older than Darren, Decklee also felt trapped by life in Mayberry and ran away as soon as she could, never to look back. And while life in the big city offered her opportunities she could never have dreamed of in Mayberry, those dreams were only realized once Decklee abandoned the parts of herself that the music industry rejected.

When Decklee dies, both Darren and her mom are devastated. However, those feelings are soon replaced by other more complicated ones when the time capsule Decklee has been keeping for years (Hello, Dolly!) is opened at her televised funeral and found to be empty! The world soon discovers, however, that this was all part of the plan as Decklee, in a recording captured before her death, sends her fans on a scavenger hunt for the real time capsule, an album of brand new songs and a life changing $3 million prize! 

Knowing this money could change her family’s life, Darren, (along with Kendall Wilkinson, a boy she’s known since second grade and who is her current coworker nemesis), heads out on a road trip across the South, using clues from Decklee’s music and life to find the missing time capsule and all the secrets it holds. As the mystery of the time capsule unspools, chapters alternate between Darren’s desperate attempt to locate what she sees as her only ticket out of Mayberry, and Decklee’s, often heartbreaking, struggle to make it as a (closeted) queer woman in country music during an era when being either of those things (never mind both!) was a guaranteed career killer.

The resulting split POV adventure across time and several Southern states is as complex and tender as it is suspenseful. Even though we know the ending of Decklee's story from the opening pages, it's impossible not to root for her, hoping against hope that the world will somehow evolve, before it's too late, recognizing people like her as being worthy of both love and superstardom. At the same time, we can't help but be invested in Darren's search for both the time capsule and a world in which she feels like she belongs. Add to that a perfectly placed plot twist and a richly developed supporting cast of characters and you're left with a book that's as easy to love as your favorite Dolly Parton song.

It's true, most teen readers won't be intrigued by the Dolly Parton back story that drew this middle aged reader to Every Time To Hear That Song. But what they will love is this book's quick pace, clever plot, charismatic characters and big, big heart. Add this book to your TBR piles, folks. It's a winner.


ISBN: 9780593623398

Publication: April 2, 2024

Audience: Darren and her friends are rising HS seniors and Decklee and her crew are adults. Still, I think readers in grades 9+ will love this book!

Bonus Content:

Just for fun, I created a coloring sheet to go along with Every Time You Hear That Song. I've been thinking a lot lately about the ways that reading (and coloring!) can serve as stress reducers during a time when so many of us (kids included!) are experiencing a great deal of stress. In my heart of hearts, I'd like to think that this resource might entice colorers to pick up Jenna's book, while also giving those readers who have already fallen in love with it, a fun way to stay connected to the story, but... it's fine if readers (of all ages!) just have fun coloring it, too. Also, I've "hidden" (one is pretty easy to find!) 4 usb drives in the coloring sheet - and if you've read the book, you know why!! Anyway, you can access the free download here.

Every Time You Hear That Song Coloring Sheet


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