Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Review: Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

What's it about? music; rock bands; coming of age; deafness; teen fiction

Summary? Eighteen-year-old Piper becomes the manager for her classmates' popular rock band, called Dumb, giving her the chance to prove her capabilities to her parents and others, if only she can get the band members to get along.

Why did I read it & where did I get it? A coworker recommended it to me because, as she said, "It's about a fledgling rock band, and the main character's deaf. Total Kearsten catnip." I've a fascination with sign language and I love fiction about rock music (Nick and Norah!), so I quickly checked it out from my library.

What I thought...
Wow. I loved this book so much it took me a month and a half to write about it, mostly because I wanted to do it justice. I've finally decided that's not possible,so I'd write anyway, and just hope my adoration speaks clearly enough!

Piper is decidedly not digging on high school, but since it's her last year, she's intent on toughing it out. When she unexpectedly witnesses an 'impromptu' performance by some of her classmates' band Dumb, she's impressed - not by their music, but by their 'showmanship.' And by the fact that their set ends with their amplifiers catching fire. She's unsure as to whether their music was any good because she's deaf.

Piper was born hearing, but it began to fail when she was six years old, and so by now, at eighteen, she's quite used to mixing sign language and reading lips to get along, though for the most part, she's an outsider at her high school, making it that much more of a surprise to the members of Dumb, her hearing little brother and her parents when she offers to manage the band.

This was brilliant. Five Flavors of Dumb is funny, interesting, musical and a just little bit sweet, without the sugar hangover after.  Piper is a great character - she's tough and snide, which I love, but also vulnerable, which comes out most often when she's interacting with her parents, both of whom are quite consumed with Piper's baby sister who, born deaf, got cochlear implants, enabling her to hear perfectly. Piper's parents' amazement and delight in the baby's ability to hear twists a knife in Piper's stomach every time, as she's told that her hearing loss wasn't 'significant' enough to merit the cochlear implant investment. And yet, Piper's own dad doesn't know enough sign language to communicate well with his oldest child.

Piper's interactions with her parents, her younger brother Finn, the members of Dumb, her friend Ed and others are rich and layered. Finn, along with Piper's mom, is fluent in sign language, but is reluctant to act as Piper's translator all the time. While Piper can read lips and speak, throughout the book she finds it to her advantage (such as when negotiating a contract for Dumb) to pretend she can't, and Piper and Finn's actual conversations, contrasted with what Finn conveys are delightfully funny.

There is so much to this book - Piper's feelings about her deafness, her parents, her future; the band and its inability to get along and settle on a style of music; Piper's rush and struggle to learn about rock music, when unable to hear it (they live in Seattle, meaning they get to visit some very cool locations - Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix's houses); Piper's realization that she's good at managing a band, despite not being able to really hear them; Antony John's wonderful writing...

Like I said, I completely loved this book, and really feel I haven't done it justice. So I'll leave you with a few quotes that struck me as I read!

On watching Dumb's lead singer perform for the first time: "...swoony Josh Cooke on vocals, his mouth moving preternaturally fast and hips gyrating as if a gerbil had gained unauthorized access to his crotch..."

In talking with a hairdresser who helps Piper make a change: "...Don't worry about wanting to change; start worrying when you don't feel like changing anymore. And in the meantime, enjoy every version of yourself you ever meet, because not everybody who discovers their true identity likes what they find."

Highly recommended!

YA Reading Challenge Count: 7

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