Notes from an Accidental Band Geek. by Erin Dionne. May 12, 2011. Dial. 304 pages. ISBN: 9780803735644
Elsie never planned to join the marching band, but when she learns she must join another ensemble in order to qualify for a competitive summer music program, she finds she has no choice. At first, mainly because of her musician dad's prejudices, Elsie doesn't take marching band very seriously. She's offended that she has to play mellophone, instead of her beloved French horn, and she just can't seem to get into the rhythm - musically or socially - of how marching band works. Once she gives it a chance, though, Elsie starts making friends, meets a couple of cute boys, and begins questioning her dad's staunchly held opinion that an orchestra is the only ensemble worth joining.
There was lots to like about this book. Right from the start, it surprised me by not being the story of a girl with no musical talent. Rather than highlighting the differences between the musically inclined and the tone deaf, as the title suggests, it actually explores the differences between different types of music, through a main character who learns to see the value beyond just her comfort zone. I thought that was a really interesting approach, and it worked well. Not only are readers immersed in the music world for the duration of the story, but they are also encouraged to examine their own interests from all sides and to consider expanding their own horizons.
Though this book is shelved in the young adult area of the library from which I borrowed it, I had trouble deciding whether it was truly YA or not. Elsie's experiences starting ninth grade were completely authentic, and reflected quite accurately the emotions and events of that time period in my own life. Because Elsie seems so innocent, though, and because she is afforded very little independence thanks to her overprotective parents, the story reads a lot more like a middle grade novel. I actually think the fact that the book is difficult to categorize is a sign that it's an excellent novel for middle schoolers, because it so perfectly straddles that transition time between late childhood and early teenhood. Dionne definitely has not forgotten all the emotion and awkwardness of adolescence - I could easily empathize with everything Elsie went through in this book, because I could see my own experiences in those events. I tensed each and every time her father laid down an unfair rule, and knew exactly the pain she felt when her friends became frustrated and stopped speaking to her.
I did find one mistake in the text - one of the hazards of being engaged to a former music teacher. I was boasting of my new musical knowledge - that a marimba, as described by Dionne, is "kind of like a big xylophone on wheels, only with pedals like a piano" - and my fiance informed me that it's the vibraphone, not the marimba, that has the pedals. This moment is not very significant at all to the story, so it doesn't ruin the book by any means, but in a book about a character with so much musical knowledge, it was disappointing that no one caught that little technicality that the character should most certainly have known.
Nitpicking aside, though, Notes from an Accidental Band Geek is a strong contemporary title, and a great, "light" alternative to all the darker young adult literature being published these days. It pairs well with Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell, My Misadventures as a Teenage Rock Star by Joyce Raskin, and any of the YA and MG titles listed in my Themed Thursday post about music.
I borrowed Notes from an Accidental Band Geek from my local public library.