Welcome to another edition of Sharing Our Snacks, in which Rebecca and I each recommend YA brain food that they think the other would enjoy crunching and munching!
Dial Books, 2010
review by Tessa
Rebecca tacked this title onto her email of Sharing Our Snacks ideas, saying it was “a book I really, really wanted to like but just didn’t.” If she hadn’t suggested it I may not have picked it up – not for any reason, but just because… just because. But I’m glad that I did. Now I can more enthusiastically booktalk it to people who are looking for music-related realistic fiction. I even made this collage last night in its honor, using only models from the Crate & Barrel Catalog, foil from Trader Joe’s honey-mint patties, fine-point Sharpies, and my interesting magazine picture backlog (which honestly needs replenishing). Oh, and a phrase from a rad Nikki McClure calendar.:
Accordingly, my review will also be collage-y.
BASIC PLOT (courtesy of Antony John’s author site):
“Piper has one month to get a paying gig for Dumb—the hottest new rock band in school.
If she does it, she’ll become manager of the band and get her share of the profits, which she desperately needs since her parents raided her college fund.
Managing one egomaniacal pretty boy, one talentless piece of eye candy, one crush, one silent rocker, and one angry girl who is ready to beat her up. And doing it all when she’s deaf. With growing self-confidence, an unexpected romance, and a new understanding of her family’s decision to buy a cochlear implant for her deaf baby sister, Piper just may discover her own inner rock star.”
I’ll get the CONS out of the way first:
Rebecca, I feel you. Five Flavors of Dumb is uneven. It tackles many issues – deafness, Deaf culture, feeling like an outsider among outsiders, navigation of cool, taking on job responsibilities, figuring out who in your band is undermining everything, understanding music history, tough sibling relationships, tough parent relationships, estranged friendships, uhh… I think those are the main ones.
So, to cover those things requires a lot of plot, and the plot gets lost sometimes. There’s a whole mystery involving an anonymous internet commenter sending Piper and Dumb around Seattle to learn about the deep, dark side of being a famous musician, and while the trips are intriguing, the mystery itself gets dropped for so long I found myself wondering if it had been forgotten. Time shrinks and expands in weird ways throughout the story (I should’ve taken notes on this so I could back my assertion up, but I didn’t and I apologize).
Finally, one must brace oneself to suspend their disbelief when reading Five Flavors of Dumb, because the premise of trying to become a band manager to make money for college is a thin one. However, a book about applying to scholarships and making a budget would not be as interesting or dynamic. So. I understand.
So we can get to the PROS:
The good news is that John gets the emotions down, and the ins and outs of familial, friendly, and romantic relationships were more than enough to keep me reading. For me, the pros outweighed the cons and I enjoyed reading about Piper and even found her world believable (despite the exception mentioned above.) In order of importance to me:
- PARENTAL PAIN
Piper’s dad has an emotional IQ of zero when it comes to his oldest spawn. This guy! I wanted to invent a pinching machine to follow him and pinch him whenever he did or said something blockheaded or particularly carelessly hurtful, and believe you me he would be covered in tiny bruises after about 10 minutes.
It’s an achievement to portray very darkly abusive parents and caregivers, for sure, but I sort of think it’s an even bigger achievement to portray the everyday slights, the subtle emotional abuse, that can go on in a family. Is abuse too strong a word? I don’t think so. Piper is shut out from being appreciated as a person and she is made to feel lesser than because of her preference for using ASL and because her parents STOLE HER COLLEGE FUND WITHOUT CONSULTING HER. But of course she still reaches out for love from her dad and mom, and it’s heartbreaking to see the ways it isn’t returned as her parents are caught up in providing for her baby sister.
- SIBLING LOVE
Piper does love her baby sister and she struggles with trying not to feel jealous of the cochlear implants and the attention that baby Grace is getting, in a realistic way. And she loves her brother, but they’re not over-the-top besties. They squabble but ultimately have each other’s backs in a way I find familiar, being a sister myself.
Piper tackles her problems practically and speaks up when she feels she’s being underestimated, despite also feeling like an outsider because of her hearing impairment and being without her moved-away best friend who can’t even bother to get on Skype once in a while. I like that about her and I like seeing how she tries to solve her problems without trying to become a tough chick stereotype.
- BAND DYNAMICS
There should be more portrayals of being in a band, and how much work it is to make a song and play together and deal with 2, 3, 4 or more personalities and ideas of how to make money. And how awesome it feels when it comes together.
- MUSIC HISTORY
The bits of the book where Piper investigates the history of Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix are fascinating. I put down the book and did more research about Hendrix afterwards. (That’s why I tried to have her holding a record album in the collage, even though it’s impossible to tell that it is supposed to be a record – also to reference a very poignant scene with her dad.)
Despite its uneven flow, Five Flavors of Dumb had emotional depth, brought out the history of its setting, and showed what it’s really like to try to work as a group. And so I’d recommend it to other readers wholeheartedly. Does that speak to any of your feelings of meh, Rebecca? I’m curious to know if you remember more about why you weren’t into it.