Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

For Christmas, I bought M a copy of Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John. I bought it because it caught my eye at the bookstore, and I liked the premise (shortest version: deaf girl decides to manage a rock band), and I read the first chapter while in the store to assess the writing and (a) forgot where I was, (b) lost track of time and (c) wanted to read on. I was a bit nervous about the purchase since M isn't always easy to buy books for, but she took to it immediately upon reading the ending. (Have I told you that M reads the end first? Well, she does. *headdesk*) Plus, M loves books that involve people who are deaf or blind. It's one of her favorite tropes, although of course that element alone isn't enough to win her over. But I digress.

I could seriously just point you to this review by Ana over at The Book Smugglers and cal it day, but I won't, because I stayed up until, I dunno, 3:45 a.m. reading this book because I absolutely could not put it down, and I therefore insist on reinventing the wheel, even though Ana's enthusiastic review (which I found this morning) pretty much says it all.

DUMB is the name of a rock band. At the start of the novel, Dumb has three members (all seniors in high school): twin brothers Josh and Will and a semi-punk girl named Tash (short for Natasha, if memory serves). They've just won a local Battle of the Bands, and they do a set on the school steps, which is where the main character, a girl named Piper, first encounters them.

Piper is smart and sassy and tired of being invisible. Lots of teenagers feel invisible, of course, but Piper even more so because she is deaf. She has hearing aids that help her a bit (in a quiet room with only one person talking) and the ability to read lips, but she has to work hard in order to understand what's going on around her. Her younger brother, Finn (a freshman), won't usually sign to her, her father never bothered to learn, and her parents just raided her college fund to pay for cochlear implants for her sister (something that made M cry, and M almost never cries, y'all). Oh, and her best friend just moved to San Francisco.

Without meaning to, Piper winds up becoming Dumb's manager, and she finds them a drummer (her friend Ed Chen, whom I adore), and then Josh drags the beautiful (but possibly talentless) Kallie into the band, mostly because he wants to get with her. Which means that now, Dumb has five members. "There was no togetherness, no blending – just five separate flavors of an indigestible dish called Dumb."

Piper has one month to get the band a paying gig. It's a simple sort of story, right? Will she or won't she succeed, and that's it? Well, yes. And no, no, no. Because Piper has to figure out more than what a manager does and how to do it. She has to figure out how to assess the music being produced by Dumb - something she cannot hear for herself. She has to figure out how to blend those five separate flavors together so that there IS a band, and not just five individuals working on their own - and that includes struggling with the various personalities and forcing them to get along together, which is no easy task. Plus she has to learn what rock and roll really is, and what music means. And of course she makes a few mistakes along the way, and she has to sort out how to fix them as well.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, her father is out of work and clearly views Piper's deafness as a handicap; her mother is working tons of overtime and stressing out because she's missing time with 11-month old Grace; Piper is conflicted about her parents' decision to "fix" Grace, who was born deaf but can now hear thanks to her implant; and Piper has to navigate changing relationships with her brother and with Ed (whom I love - I know I'm repeating myself, but seriously, I love him). And all of those folks are busy adjusting to the changes in Piper, who is rapidly and rather splendidly coming into her own.

This book has it all - romance, drama (of the best sort), rock & roll, characters you don't want to let go of and a highly satisfying ending (that wasn't spoiled for M despite having read it in advance, because until you read what comes before, it doesn't really make sense). I somehow had NOT heard of this book before I picked it up at the store, but I have vowed not to let the rest of you get away without hearing of it.

HIGHLY recommended. As in, what are you waiting for? Go buy Five Flavors of Dumb, it's that good. (See how I managed not to say "it's one tasty novel"?)


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