Friday, November 19, 2010
Five Flavors of Dumb
[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/9872355]
Schneider Family Book Award, Teen (2011)
Have you ever had one of those moments where you fly off the handle a little and tell everyone just how dumb they are, how they're doing everything wrong, and how you could do it better? Piper has. But instead of being told to shove it after telling off the lead singer of Dumb, the most recent winner of a Battle of the Bands competition no one's ever heard of, she's offered the position of band manager. Now Piper, who knows nothing of rock music having lost most of her hearing at an early age, is in charge of promoting and controlling the bands' members, so different that they amount to Five Flavors of Dumb.
I've known more than my share of garage bands and "artistic" types in my life (Hi guys!), and I loved how John showed off the different types of high school musicians (I'd say stereotypes, but these folks are real, dude). First there is Will, the bass player. Like all bass players, he's an enigma unto himself. There's Tasha, the angry grrl guitar player who is in love with Will. Ed, a classical musician, plays the drums and basically adds the stability of years of musical training to the group. Kallie's hot. Girls want to be her and guys want to do her, and every band needs someone like that, right? And then there's Josh, the lead singer. He's all ego and jumping around and hogging the spotlight. And wanting to do Kallie. He also hires Piper, who is in way over her head, in the hopes of getting a paying gig for the band.
John could have made that set-up a whole book in and of itself, albeit a much less satisfying one. Instead of being a book all about the band, this is a book all about how Piper deals with them. But it's also a book about Piper and her life at school and at home. Woven through her parents reactions to Dumb are Piper's reactions to her family. Her maternal grandparents (now deceased) were both deaf and very into deaf culture. They instilled a sense of pride in Piper, along with the sense that she has the ability to do anything she wants to do regardless of her lack of hearing. Piper's mother and brother are both fluent in ASL (American Sign Language), but her father does not sign at all. Her infant sister was born deaf. In her, Piper saw a kind of ally. Or, she did until her parents raided Piper's college fund to get her sister a cochlear implant (a surgically implanted device that can restore hearing to severely deaf persons). Betrayal and closing doors all in one. She hopes Dumb will be her ticket out of town and to the college of her dreams.
The juxtaposition of why Dumb's different members, Piper included, are in the band, money, fame, the music (said very seriously), and various crushes on other band members, cause problems. All the band drama keeps this from turning into a problem novel about a moderately severe deaf girl in a hearing family and high school. Though the fact that Piper is deaf comes up over and over and over again in her dealings with various people in the music business as well as with the band itself (and, sadly, her family), it is never Piper's defining characteristic, just as Kallie's skin color is never hers (though she is proud of her mother's self-proclaimed status as "the first African American to go grunge" (p160)*).
The best part about Five Flavors of Dumb really is Piper herself. She has such a strong voice, sense of herself, and talent for sarcasm. I also loved her developing relationship with the girls of Dumb, Tasha and Kallie. I LOVE great girl friendship books, and by the end this one totally fit the bill. And watching Piper's rock music education was fabulous (the Seattle setting helped a bit). I grew up listening to Hendrix and other musicians of that era (thanks Dad), and I was in middle school and just getting into Nirvana when Kurt Cobain killed himself (thanks Johanna). I can't imagine coming to these musicians as a senior in high school. Seeing them through Piper and the rest of Dumb was like "meeting" them all over again.
Five Flavors of Dumb came out earlier this month!
Book source: ARC picked up at ALA
*Quotes and page numbers are from an uncorrected proof and may not match the published copy.