Confession: When I was in high school I was in band. Actually, I’ve mentioned that before. What I didn’t mention was marching band.
Honestly, some of my worse memories are from marching band. I was a double alternate (i.e. they gave up trying to teach me how to march in step). The ironic thing is, despite this I actually excelled at actually playing my instrument. I was the only one in my school to qualify for the All-State band and that lead to better and grander things in my life. So I guess in a way, I got the last laugh (evil laughs).
That’s besides the point though. I have to say that despite my utter hatred for marching, I always thought a book about marching band would be a pretty cool YA book. In fact, my friends and I often joked about how we were one day going to write a YA book called Under the Shako. What is a shako you might ask, well, it’s the ugly ass hat they make you wear to march just to add to the humiliation of wearing a hideous polyester uniform. That aside though, I was excited to see an actual book involving marching band at my library. However, it was one of those relationships that was too good to be true.
General Summary: Because she was too stupid not to sign up for youth orchestra and her school apparently has no concert band program, Elsie is forced into marching band so that she can audition for
BUTI Shining Birches. Will she survive or will someone give her a swirly for being an insufferable ass?
It’s not going to be pretty guys. First of all, I’ll tell you I’m probably a little biased. As I said before, I was in band. But to be honest, I’ve really spent all my life around music. All of my family has musical degrees. My aunt and uncles bands have won several awards for marching and concert work. My mom herself is a fantastic teacher. My sister is an orchestral musician. My dad was a jazz musician. A lot of my friends are musicians. So, when it comes to fact checking in this book any mistake isn’t going to get past me. Rather, it’s going to annoy me. And boy there were a lot of mistakes in this book.
Let’s talk about what’s good about this book. It a nice easy read. Yes, the main character was insufferable and the dialogue sounded really fake–both things I’ll get into more detail in a minute–but it was an easy read. And the concept was cute too. A little out there given all the factual discrepancies but it worked. Enough I guess. And there was a plot and an actual attempt to develop character. It really didn’t work though, but there was effort.
Alright, let’s talk about the problems because I’m probably going to spend quite a bit about the review talking about them. This book is cringe worthy people. Even if you know nothing about music or the music industry, there are things about it that will get you groaning. I’ll discuss those things first before I get technical.
Everything in this book just comes off a little fake. First there’s are main character who is a bitch. There’s no other way to describe her. As I discuss in the Worst Feature section, I thought maybe it was because she suffered from a social disorder, but nope. She had no excuse for her behavior. She’s just insults people for the heck of it. Likewise, I think her friends (if you could call them that) were a bit over sensitive as well. They just wanted her to be a doormat. To succumb to mediocrity. And the love interest he was pretty bland until he got mad out of her in a fit of petty jealousy because of a guy named Punk (yes, there was actually a character named Punk who dressed like a punk). Her father was pretty awful too there was this ridiculous temper tantrum that went on between him and Elsie and I honestly thought….ugh, you don’t want to know. Basically, the point I’m getting at is that there was no happy medium when it came to characterization in this book. No wonder the dialogue felt so slanted. Also, can I say that I hated how this book would put in pop culture references but not outright say them, i.e. there are Twilight references but instead of calling it Twilight Dionne refers to it as Dusk. Not to mention a dozen or so Star Wars references that were put in, in an obvious attempt to be hip (seriously, there was a character whose whole purpose was to quote lines from the movies).
A lot of things about this book just didn’t make sense there were a glob of plot holes and plots that I just couldn’t make sense of. And to having plot holes in a contemporary is a pretty big deal. At least with a paranormal, you sort of have the excuse of another world but here there are no excuses. None at all.
Okay, guys here’s the technical music related stuff. A lot of this might bore you to death, but I feel like when you’re writing a novel proper research is a must and with the age of the internet it’s not that difficult to do. Here are just a few of the things that bothered me about how Dionne handled the subject matter:
1) Transcribing a piccolo solo to mellophone can’t be done. A piccolo is the highest pitched instrument on the field a mellophone plays a lot lower. You play in treble cliff on piccolo you play in bass cliff on mellophone. And furthermore you’re bastardizing Sousa’s Stars and Stripes when you use a mellophone.
10. Getting into a big parade like the
Macy’s Darcy’s Thanksgiving Parade or the Rose Bowl isn’t accomplished in just a few weeks it takes years. And usually when you do get invited it’s the whole district not just one school (I would know my uncle’s school district got invited to march for the Rose Bowl a couple of years back).
Best Feature: The Subject Matter. I like books about band. Music played an important role in my life and I think it’s important for kids to realize that it’s out there and this book does it. Grant it, it gets a lot of things wrong. But I like it’s intentions..
Worst Feature: Suffering from Sheldon Cooper Syndrome: Okay, Elsie. Girlfriend, you’re not getting a b.f.f. charm from me anytime soon. In fact, I’m almost tempted to throw you in the dungeon of doom. However, you aren’t the typical Sue I’ll give you that. You’re just mean. And don’t know how to deal with people. I actually wondered if you suffered from a social disorder like Aspergers or something and if that was the case you know more power to you. I feel like YA protagonist should be more diversified since the world itself has a wide array of people. And I have to admit it would be sort of cool reading a book in the POV from someone who views the world differently than I do. But you, my friend, you don’t have a social disorder and you have no excuse for being such a bitch to everyone. Yes, I get your instrument is your life. But let me tell you, being from a family of musicians you’re going to get nowhere. You think you need a night off of practicing before a marching band contest. A marching band contest where quite honestly no one is going to hear you over the crowd….let me just put it this way, my sister who is actually a symphony musician practices at bare minimum of three hours day. Usually it’s six plus. When I was in high school, I practiced at least ninety minutes a day and it wasn’t music that was fun for the most part. I did fundamentals like scales and stuff. Also, don’t act like you’re so much better than your peers. It’s not your place to correct them unless you’re the section leader or whatever. Your band director or private lesson teacher (oh, right I forgot your school doesn’t have private teachers) will be more than happy to point out their faults, they don’t need to be told how much they suck from a wannabe like you. I will say as insufferable as Elsie is–seriously, she’s like an mean version of Sheldon Cooper of the band world-I did think her friends were a bit overly sensitive and rude themselves. So what if she doesn’t want to eat ice cream with you guys? Get over it. She’s been with you all day long at the field and really who wants to be with a person 24/7. Seriously, this book lacked balance when it comes to social interaction. You’re either an ass or a doormat. No in between.
Appropriateness: This book seems pretty clean. I mean, after meeting Elsie you sort of understand why. There’s not going to be any happy times for her romantically until she loses that chip on her shoulder plus I think her dad would hit someone with his French Horn or whatever if they even got close to second base which I don’t think she’ll get to with the love interest in this book. However, what bothered me about this book for young readers was the fact that it preached for mediocrity. Seriously, Elsie was shunned because she was practicing. Like practicing is a sin. Some of the stuff she said was offensive, but her practicing that shouldn’t be judged. But seriously, in the end she realizes that her goals aren’t important just as long as she’s having fun in a group and gives up a great opportunity. Well, Elsie tell me how you feel ten years from now when all the French Horn playing you’re doing is for your community band?
Blockbuster Worthy: Um, no. I don’t think I could handle this one on the big or small screen. It would be a Disney movie for the week for sure. And you know what, I’m not even going to bother to cast roles because I don’t want to be that mean. Plus, I can’t think of anyone bitchy enough to play Elsie besides Kristen Stewart and they don’t look anything alike.
Overall Rating: Three out of ten shakos. I liked the idea the writing was easy enough to read. But God, the characters the lack of research just drove me crazy.