Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review: Audition & Subtraction by Amy Fellner Dominy

Audition & Subtraction. by Amy Fellner Dominy. September 4, 2012. Walker & Company. 272 pages. ISBN: 9780802723

Audition & Subtraction is the latest middle grade novel from OyMG author Amy Fellner Dominy. This time, Dominy takes her readers into the world of middle school band competition. Tatum is a clarinetist, and Lori plays flute. They have been best friends forever, and Lori has always been there to play duets with Tatum so she doesn’t have to face the District Honor Band judges on her own. This year, though, there’s a new clarinetist in town, Michael, and not only does he present serious competition for Tatum, he also starts dating Lori. As Lori becomes more and more focused on her relationship with Michael, Tatum worries that she will be more interested in helping her boyfriend succeed than in making sure Tatum plays well at their audition. Tatum thinks the solution might be to play a solo this year instead - after all, her teacher and her good friend Aaron both think she can do it - but it will never be possible until Tatum believes it herself.

I, too, was a middle school clarinet player, and though I never willingly entered any sort of competition, I could relate to Tatum’s desire to play well, and to her fears about doing so on her own in front of strangers. I think the author did a wonderful job of capturing the details of the middle school band environment. I loved the way Tatum and Aaron subtly goofed off during rehearsal, and I nearly cheered when I saw a mention of “Air for Band.” (To this day, when I hear that piece, I am transported back to 7th grade symphonic band. Listen to it here.)

Aside from the wonderful details about band life, I also appreciated the depth of the emotions experienced by Dominy’s characters. Tatum’s doubts in herself are the doubts of every tween girl, which gives the book this great universal girl appeal, but Lori and Michael come across as complex and flawed individuals as well. Lori revels in her newfound attention from boys after her recent weight loss, and Michael frets over the opinions of his professional musician father, who promises to come visit only if his son gets into the Honor Band. The characterization is the strongest aspect of the story because Dominy takes the time to add layers to each character, not just to the protagonist.

The last couple chapters of this book are a little sappy, I won’t deny that, but the ending is so satisfying. I think girls will really see themselves in Tatum, and root for her, and when they finally see her learn how to stand on her own, I hope they feel the same relief and love for her as a character that I felt. I got a little bit teary-eyed reading this story; anyone who had a tough time in middle school will probably do the same.

Audition & Subtraction is a logical read-alike for How to Rock Braces and Glasses, Ten Miles Past Normal, and Notes from an Accidental Band Geek, since all three books have a strong musical theme. It also compares well to some of Lauren Barnholdt’s tween fiction, which also focuses on friendships and dating, but not as much on sex or puberty. (Fun fact: The cover illustration for Audition & Subtraction was done by Nathalie Dion, who also does the covers for Lauren Barnholdt's tween novels!) Audition & Subtraction is a perfect bridge book between things like the Cupcake Diaries and the Baby-sitters Club and the more mature themes of books by authors like Lauren Myracle and Judy Blume. It’s one of my favorite books from this year, and I can’t wait to see where Amy Fellner Dominy takes us next!

I borrowed Audition & Subtraction from my local public library. 

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat

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