Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've read quite a few books recently that revolved around bands and rock music - Amplified by Tara Kelly and June of Rock by Elisa Ludwig were two that this one reminded me of most, and all three were great. This one even has a blurb on the cover from The Philadelphia Inquirer that calls it "A love letter to rock music." And I guess that is true, as far as it goes, because there is a lot of discussion of Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain (this book takes place in Seattle), their history, their impact and their significance. And it's really well done, too, it's not just a lesson-y dry recitation of facts. It gets thoughtful and passionate about exploring their legacies as seen through the eyes of some contemporary teens to whom these relics of my generation still resonate and reverberate.
But I remember a while ago reading (ok, skimming) Lance Armstrong's autobiography It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life. To me, this book is not about the music - it's more of a family drama, albeit one that takes place in the context of a small-time rock band on the cusp of breaking out. MC Piper is struggling with some big changes in her life. Her only other deaf friend has moved away and seems to be distancing herself emotionally as well. Her new baby sister has just received a cochlear implant, courtesy of Piper's thereby depleted college fund, leaving Piper the only deaf one in her family. She's torn by jealousy (and guilt over that) and a feeling of deepening isolation. She also feels betrayed by her parent's seeming financial favoritism and hurt by the deeper implication that her "unfixable" deafness makes her "disabled," a notion she rejects. It's against this backdrop that Piper stumbles across the winner of the local battle of the bands, Dumb, performing on the steps of her high school. She's kind of fascinated by their performance, and sees an opportunity to make some cash on their coattails. She negotiates a deal to become their manager if she can land them a paying gig in thirty days.
It's against this backdrop that Piper finds strength to confront perceptions that she's less than capable, the notion that she's always going to be the compliant good girl who's so nice she won't even take her own side in a fight, and comes to realize that other people have depths, issues and their own struggles that are far from apparent on the surface. Piper is not always a perfect paragon - she can be resentful, sometimes has anger management issues, and, until our story begins in earnest, doesn't always express or acknowledge her emotions very effectively. But as her role as manager requires her to step up and begin to do so, she finds that other other people have their own frailties and struggles, giving her new perspective regarding her own problems, and a realization that she can have an impact for the good on theirs.
So maybe that makes this all seem like it would be heavy and angsty and all. And whoa! there is plenty of emotion to be felt, plenty. But it unfolds and reveals itself through a series of situations and characters that are funny, crazy, interesting and cleverly written. This is a story of healing and, yes, growing up. A recognition that parents can be flawed but still loving, that friends are hard to find and worth fighting for. I give the author special kudos for portraying a dad who seems sucky, but is willing to hang in there when he realizes he's messed things up. Piper is an awesome character, it is way worth getting to know her, and joining her journey.
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