Yolanda Joe, Author . Dutton $23.95 (221p) ISBN 978-0-525-94808-7

Bestseller Joe's latest gives a nod to My Fair Lady —and, like the musical, it's predictable but plenty of fun. Imani Holland has a voice like "velvet on fire," and she raps the lyrics her boyfriend, Taz, writes; together they're gonna make it big. At an unofficial competition at the local college campus, Imani catches the attention of Orenthal Hopson, a gifted young musician and academic. Hopson's been butting heads with department chair Perkins over his theory of music's transformative powers, and Imani's raw talent makes her the perfect test—Perkins will give Hopson three months to make Imani into a jazz diva. "Mother Nature had just been darn right good to the brother" Hopson, but Imani dismisses him as too "uptown"—that is, until she catches Taz getting a lap dance from a groupie and decides to give the professor a call. Hopson exposes her to new music, offers elocution and singing lessons and gives wardrobe advice. In turn, Imani's uninhibited spirit helps the uptight Hopson loosen up. Meanwhile, Imani's dad is in trouble with the local loan shark and his strongman, Biggie (who's also Taz's best friend and Imani's best friend's older brother). Imani feels pushed and pulled—she's still got a thing for Taz, but he keeps misbehaving. When she finally falls for Hopson, it turns out that he's capable of betrayal, too. Joe (The Hatwearer's Lesson ) is prone to pseudo-profundities ("Where do we flee when something we trust breaks?"; "The essence of love can't be penetrated because it's too deep"), but it's impossible not to root for spunky, ambitious Imani. The inevitable happy ending is the perfect finale. (Apr. 12)

Reviewed on: 03/01/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
Paperback - 221 pages - 978-0-452-28618-4
Hardcover - 352 pages - 978-0-7862-7145-0
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