California Dreamin: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas - Pénélope Bagieu

Before she became the legendary Mama Cass—one quarter of the mega-huge folk group The Mamas and the Papas—Cass Eliot was a girl from Baltimore trying to make it in the big city. After losing parts to stars like Barbra Streisand on the Broadway circuit, Cass found her place in the music world with an unlikely group of cohorts.

The Mamas and the Papas released five studio albums in their three years of existence. It was at once one of the most productive (and profitable) three years any band has ever had, and also one of the most bizarre and dysfunctional groups of people to ever come together to make music. Through it all, Cass struggled to keep sight of her dreams—and her very identity.

This graphic novel is so refreshing. It discusses a real-life, incredible talent, and is also entirely body positive! How amazing is that?! It shouldn't be such an amazing thing in this day and age, but I think California Dreamin' is a book with a lot of potential to discuss body image, weight, and self-esteem in a historical and contemporary context. Cass Elliot isn't a small woman, and though the novel does seem to give a bit of a reason for her eating habits earlier on, the later portions of the text allow her to live large and be herself. Body positivity is a very hard thing to find in literature these days, so I encourage libraries and classrooms to look at adopting and using Bagieu's text to discuss the topics.

Between the media's obsession with body type and the complications of love and lust, Cass's story is complex and nuanced and really interesting! I had no idea how she came to fame, how much she and her colleagues were at odds, and the space of self-exploration within a family coming from a space of early death (her father) and critique (her mother). I think this is a book that deserves a lot of love. Biography meets fat-positive treatise, California Dreamin' is a graphic novel I Highly Recommend!


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