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Book Review: This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow

Publisher’s description

this is whatThis tender story of friendship, music, and ferocious love asks: what will you fight for, if not yourself? You Don’t Know Me But I Know You author Rebecca Barrow’s next book is perfect for fans of Katie Cotugno and Emery Lord.

Who cares that the prize for the Sun City Originals contest is fifteen grand? Not Dia, that’s for sure. Because Dia knows that without a band, she hasn’t got a shot at winning. Because ever since Hanna’s drinking took over her life, Dia and Jules haven’t been in it. And because ever since Hanna left—well, there hasn’t been a band.

It used to be the three of them, Dia, Jules, and Hanna, messing around and making music and planning for the future. But that was then, and this is now—and now means a baby, a failed relationship, a stint in rehab, all kinds of off beats that have interrupted the rhythm of their friendship.

But like the lyrics of a song you used to play on repeat, there’s no forgetting a best friend. And for Dia, Jules, and Hanna, this impossible challenge—to ignore the past, in order to jump start the future—will only become possible if they finally make peace with the girls they once were, and the girls they are finally letting themselves be.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I always like a story about complicated friendships. Here, in Barrow’s second book, we get just that; but it’s not just the story of why a friendship broke up, it’s also the story of how a friendship was patched back together.

 

Hanna, Dia, and Jules used to be best friends. Dia and Jules still are. They also used to be in a band together. Super tight, the girls played their mix of punk/grunge/R&B at shows and parties all around town until Hanna’s drinking problem got in the way. The book opens with them having just played a successful show, then jumps to the very end of senior year, 407 days after Hanna got sober. She’s no longer friends with Jules or Dia. The other two girls remain close, supporting each other through a break-up, a baby, and a death. We move around in time, narratively, and see their friendship in the past, see Hanna’s drinking escalate, and see Dia’s relationship with Elliot, the now-dead father of her baby. It’s easy to see how their friendship imploded, but it’s harder to see how the girls can put it back together. Enter the Sun City Originals contest.

 

Dia wants to enter the contest for a chance to win $15,000 and the opening spot for one of their favorite bands. Jules says it wouldn’t be right to enter without Hanna on drums, even though they haven’t even spoken to her in nearly two years. Reluctantly, the girls reform their band, but just their band—not their friendship. But playing together again means spending a lot of time together, and it’s hard to keep those walls up and hang on to those old hurts when they’re around each other so much, and when they’re having so much fun making music again. Dia and Jules realize they don’t even really know Hanna anymore. But can you start over being friends with someone when there’s so much baggage?

 

I loved this book for the painfully honest and authentic look at teenage friendship. The girls are all complex characters dealing with their own things. Dia has a toddler and is trying to protect her heart from falling in love and potentially losing another person. Jules is dating Autumn, a new girl at work who has never been in a relationship and isn’t sure if she’s a lesbian or bi or what. They’ve all just graduated high school and are trying to figure out what the future will bring. They’re not just trying to figure out who they are in relation to each other, but who they are in relation to many other people, and on their own. This story of trust, old wounds, rebuilding, and music is empowering and ultimately a powerful look at support female friendships. A great read.

 

Bonus: The whole time I read this, I was thinking about an amazing local (Minnesota) band that I saw last winter, Bruise Violet. I’m listening to them as I write this review. Check them out!

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062494238
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/06/2018

Book Review: How You Ruined My Life by Jeff Strand

Publisher’s description

how you ruinedA new hilarious novel from the author of The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever and Stranger Things Have Happened.

Rod’s life doesn’t suck. If you ask him, it’s pretty awesome. He may not be popular, but he and his best friends play in a band that has a standing gig. Yeah, it’s Monday night and they don’t get paid, but they can turn the volume up as loud as they want. And Rod’s girlfriend is hot, smart, and believes in their band—believes in Rod. Aside from a winning lottery ticket, what more could he ask for?

Answer: A different cousin. When Rod’s scheming, two-faced cousin Blake moves in for the semester, Rod tries to keep calm. Blake seems to have everyone else fooled with good manners and suave smile, except Rod knows better. Blake is taking over his room, taking over his band, taking over his life! But Rod’s not about to give up without a fight. Game on. May the best prankster win…

 

Amanda’s thoughts

An excellent holdover from my surly teen years is that if someone tells me I will like something, or if something is billed as being “hilarious,” I will immediately NOT want to like it and usually not even venture to read/watch/whatever something because YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT I WILL LIKE and DON’T TELL ME I’M SUPPOSED TO FIND SOMETHING FUNNY. So, suffice it to say, between the description up there of this book as “hilarious” combined with someone having read this and told me I’ll “love” it, I was all ready to be disappointed. I think Rod, the main character in this book, would appreciate my very (leftover) punk rock attitude of I WILL PROBABLY HATE THIS.

 

You know where I’m going here, right? That’s right—I enjoyed the heck out of this book. 16-year-old Floridian Rod is in a semi-okay punk band with his two good friends, Clarissa and Mel. He’s dating Audrey, who is super smart and sells their merch at shows. Life seems like it’s going fine… and then his cousin Blake shows up to live with Rod and his mom for three months. Blake is ANNOYING. He’s an entitled snob who sends a U-Haul with 42 boxes to Rod’s tiny house, arrives at the airport with a dozen suitcases, and can’t even be bothered to help bring them in or even open his own car door for himself. He is INSUFFERABLE. Blake claims he’s not being insulting, just observant, as he makes snide remarks about Rod’s life. He treats Rod like a servant, and has no understanding at all of boundaries (like he immediately takes down half of Rod’s posters and puts up his own crap, then decides he’ll sleep in Rod’s bed and leave Rod with the air mattress). But to Rod’s mom, he’s a total suck-up. Rod is LIVID. He addresses the reader a lot, which normally would bug me, but really works here. That even works to hilarious effect in the chapter about biology class and animal dissection—it comes with a warning, and I did skip that chapter, because no thank you, but the next chapter provides a brief recap for those of us who couldn’t handle the dissection chapter. Super nasty Blake continues to act like he’s just being observant and trying to help and really working to help make Rod’s life BETTER. But Blake’s version of “better” involves Rod’s girlfriend dumping him, his band ousting him, and an awful lot of “helpful” things that sure seem like sabotage. When Rod just can’t take it anymore, when everything has imploded, he takes drastic action—only Blake isn’t sure if it’s a prank or real.

 

This book is funny, full of digressions and ramblings and lots of ranting. It’s not exactly deep, doesn’t have a whole lot of plot, and Blake’s reasoning for his actions is pretty thin, BUT this book is a lot of fun. A solid recommendation for readers who like unreliable narrators, pranks, and lots of humor. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781492662020
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 04/03/2018

Book Review: Boy Seeking Band by Steve Brezenoff

Publisher’s description

ra6Great music and great friendships aren’t always in harmony. Terence Kato is a prodigy bass player, but he’s determined to finish middle school on a high note. Life has other plans. In eighth grade, he’s forced to transfer from a private arts school to a public school, where the kids seemingly speak a different language. Luckily, Terence knows a universal one: music. The teen sets out to build a rock band and, in the process, make a few friends. From the acclaimed author of Brooklyn, Burning and Guy in Real Life comes a fresh, funny, genuine novel about enjoying life beyond the opening act.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

boy seeking bandThere’s a lot to like about this book, but the major thing that stands out to me is this: this is a great book for reluctant/struggling readers who want something that looks/feels “older” than they might normally read. While this is about 8th graders, and could easily be a YA title with not much tweaking, kids 10 and up could comfortably read this book. The cover, plot, and deeper issues the story touches on all make this appealing for both fans of middle grade and fans of younger YA.

 

Minneapolis teen Terence has spent a few years attending an arts school, but now is at Franklin Middle School, a public school, after his mom died and he and his father moved across town. There’s no money anymore for the private school tuition and Terence’s dad is in rough shape, debilitated by grief and, understandably, not doing the greatest job parenting or helping Terence grieve or adjust to his new school. Terence, who plays bass, joins the school jazz band, but they’re not up to his standards, so he bails, searching instead to form his own band. Terence is just a bit of a music snob, something that really comes to light as he auditions people for his band. Before long he’s joined by other musicians, and while they sound great and really seem to click, Terence repeatedly makes it clear that this is just a band—he’s not looking for friends at Franklin. Like, he actually, repeatedly says out loud that he does not want friends. Sure, buddy. Whatever you say. It’s clear that Terence is struggling to work through his mother’s death and all the changes that came after, but he absolutely does not want to talk about it with his new friends (sorry, bandmates) to the point that he freaks out on them if they begin to show the tiniest bit of compassion to him.  In fact, things with the band fall apart, thanks to Terence, just when the Wellstone Music Battle of the Kid Bands is coming up. Terence’s band is being buzzed about at school and they seem like real contenders for the battle, but Terence’s anger and grief, and insistence on going it alone, may get in the way of their potential success. 

 

Brezenoff excels in creating interesting characters. Though Terence holds everyone at a distance, including the reader, the depth of his complicated feelings is clear. He’s surrounded by other people who show there is more to them than what they seem. BOY SEEKING BAND is a well-written look at the ways grief can change a life. Packed with music references, this will appeal to a wide range of readers, but especially to anyone who loves music as much as Terence does. A great addition for both middle grade and young adult collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley

ISBN-13: 9781496544629

Publisher: Capstone Press

Publication date: 08/28/2017