Thursday, January 27, 2011

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Challenge: Piper has one month to get the rock band Dumb a paying gig.

The Deal: If she does it, Piper will become the band's manager and get her share of the profits.

The Catch: How can Piper possibly manage one egomaniacal pretty boy, one talentless piece of eye candy, one crush, one silent rocker, and one angry girl? And how can she do it when she's deaf?

Piper can’t hear Dumb’s music, but with growing self-confidence, a budding romance, and a new understanding of the decision her family made to buy a cochlear implant for her deaf baby sister, she discovers her own inner rock star and what it truly means to be a flavor of Dumb. (Publisher's summary from Goodreads)

Fitting in is not a new concept in YA contemporary novels. In fact, I would venture that all teenagers experience a fear of acceptance sometime during their adolescences. What makes Antony John’s novel Five Flavors of Dumb unique in presenting this issue is the combination of an original story and brilliant characterization.

So why do I think that John’s plot is so original? Well, the most obvious answer is it focuses on a deaf girl becoming a manager of a Rock band. But there’s more. The protagonist, Piper (cool and original name, right), doesn’t fall for the hot lead guitarist in the band, and it is completely devoid of vamps, demons, and werewolves. Nevertheless, the story is magically in the sense that it shows how a person’s disability does not define who she is, anymore than someone’s talent or looks does. Finally, for anyone who is a music lover, John seamlessly weaves a variety of Rock history into the story’s background giving the reader a coherent sense of what breaking into the music scene might be like. The story is well paced with conflicts that build tension throughout and brings the reader to an exciting climax and a completely satisfying and realistic ending.

In addition to Five Flavors of Dumb being a terrific original story, John also gives the reader a cast of characters that all stand out in their own way. Like most people who have already read this book, I loved Piper. She has a wonderful mix of strengths and weaknesses. She embraces her deafness and prefers signing as her preferred form of communication, but has the ability to read lips and talk. Her relationship with her family is strained on several levels. Her father refuses to sign, and both parents have raided her college fund to pay for her baby sister’s cochlear implant. Her anger over this decision is one of the conflicts she deals with in the story. As Piper begins to integrate herself into her role of band manager, the problems that arise are not related to her being deaf, but by the band’s dynamics. Finally, I loved the addition of a budding romance between Piper and her friend, Ed Chen. It was much more realistic than the love at first sight affairs that frequent most YA novels and did not take center stage, but added to the overall flavor of the novel.

Five Flavors of Dumb is one of those novels that must be experienced to fully comprehend the complexity of story. John's use of humor to offset some of the more intense issues dealt with in the book are masterfully accomplished through his story and his characters. This is definitely a book I cannot wait to put into the hands of my students, and it will be a strong recommendation for next year’s book battle. For anyone tired of formulaic contemporary novels then Five Flavors of Dumb is not to be missed.

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