What You Do to Me

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. 

Discussion Questions

Ques­tions cour­tesy of Rochelle Weinstein

  1. What song (Jew­ish or not) brings you back to child­hood? A favorite mem­o­ry? A first love?
  2. In your fam­i­ly, was it impor­tant for you to mar­ry with­in your reli­gion? What about your chil­dren? Do you expect them to mar­ry some­one of the same faith? Why?
  3. There’s a lot about per­spec­tive, being able to see things clear­ly, and things not being what they seem in the nov­el. How do Cecil­ia and Sara both deal with these circumstances?
  4. What are your thoughts on Don leav­ing Cecil­ia with Glo­ria? Do you believe he was young and thought he was doing his best? Or do you think he was being self­ish and short-sighted?
  5. Have you ever expe­ri­enced any form of dis­crim­i­na­tion or prej­u­dice in your life? How did you han­dle it?
  6. Why do you think Cecil­ia had such loy­al­ty to her moth­er? And was it loy­al­ty? Or was it fear? How did that affect her rela­tion­ship with Don?
  7. Shi­ra influ­enced Sara and Eddie’s rela­tion­ship in unfor­giv­able ways. How do you feel about Sara’s deci­sion to for­give? To just let it go?
  8. Eddie strug­gled with leav­ing his grand­fa­ther while Sara had a wan­der­lust she couldn’t tame. Who did you relate to in their approach­es to family?
  9. The nov­el por­trayed a Jew­ish fam­i­ly with­out a dis­tinct label. How has Judaism changed through­out the years? Do you see over­lap in some of the sects? What does being Jew­ish mean to you?
  10. Some par­ents are stricter than oth­ers for what­ev­er the cir­cum­stances. Which do you think is the most effec­tive approach? How were you raised? Your children?
  11. Is there a loca­tion where you and your fam­i­ly trav­el for hol­i­days? Is it an annu­al trip? What’s so spe­cial about it?
  12. In the nov­el, the char­ac­ters have to lose” things to find them­selves. Do you feel that is an effec­tive char­ac­ter arc? How did we see Cecil­ia and Sara grow from this?
  13. Have you ever googled the mean­ing behind a song? Did the answer meet your expec­ta­tion or were you total­ly off?
  14. Name a song title that would be your cur­rent theme song?
  15. Do you believe in the pow­er of music? The pow­er of the writ­ten word? Give us an example.