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YA Review Throwdown: Battle of the Bands

July 5, 2017

I wound up reading books that sort of paired off with each other, which made for an interesting reading experience, even though some of the characterizations and plot points blurred a bit, and possibly invited comparisons. Possibly unfair ones. Once I had the thought, I couldn’t escape it. I read a bunch of books that paired off. And wound up in cage matches. So here we go.

Fictional Band Books

I’m cheating a little here, I admit: I’m conflating books where the teens are in fictional bands with books where the teens are fans of fictional bands. Either way, I admit that fictional bands have always been among my favorite things: I adore the movies The Commitments and Still Crazy, and I contend that the Beatles movie Help! constitutes a fictional band movie. (Because zany, improbable fake religious cult, and playing piano while skiing.) So I’m 100% here for fictional bands. None of these books had been on my radar initially. I first encountered them as part of The Hub Challenge, a reading challenge I completed with my fellow librarians. I’m very glad I did.Jacket Image, the Haters by Jesse Andrews

The Haters
by Jesse Andrews
Amulet Books
(library book)
My main thought about this book was that it captures the voice and thoughts of teenage boys perfectly. Arguing about the best bands ever- lifting up the very best, and heaping scorn upon the rest, and on anyone who admits to liking such terrible bands. Dick jokes. Thoughts about pretty girls, and hooking up with them. Impulsive, zany, laugh-out-loud crass.
Having Wes tell the story of his improbable and ludicrous escape from jazz band camp with his best friend Corey and their new, enigmatic friend (and crush) Ash, makes their crazy adventures a lot funnier. And tempers the craziness and crassness with Wes’s vulnerable moments, which I appreciated. The adventure is fun, but it’s also overwhelming and more than a little out of control, and seeing it from Wes’s perspective captures his feelings, making even the crazier moments, like the hippie musicians, more real.

Jacket image, This Song is (Not) for You by Laura NowlinThis Song is (Not) for You
by Rebecca Nowlin
(library book)
Ramona and Sam have been best friends since they met, forming a band of two and playing together. And also having secret (ish) crushes on each other, but not wanting to act on them, for fear of messing up the band or the musical partnership. Along comes Tom, the new guy, with his gadgetry and electronic music. Ramona engulfs him into the band and their friendship, saying he’s exactly what’s been missing. Sam, with his crush on Ramona, is really not sure.
I won’t spoil the particulars, but I give this novel credit for setting up a YA love triangle, and handling the characters, and the complexities of friendship and love really well. Getting the story from their alternating points of view in successive chapters makes it work. I read this really fast, and I think I might need to go back and reread it, to really appreciate how the characters negotiate their relationships. It’s more mature, and more nuanced than the average YA novel love triangle, and I give it credit.

25184383Kill the Boy Band
by Goldy Moldovsky
This is a zany, over-the-top, dark comedy about a fictional boy band, fandom and fangirls. It captures the sense of being a teenage fangirl so well that I swear it back memories of what it was like to be obsessed with the Beatles (I was old school) and to have fan friends (before the Internet, believe it or not). And sometimes the dark absurdity was funny in a satirical sort of way that worked for me. As I read, I kept wondering how long the Tumblr fandom slang that is so much part of the dialogue would stay relevant enough to be comprehended by readers, even a year from now…. This level of dark comedy isn’t my preference to read but stayed with enough focus on the characters and friendships that it mostly served the plot in useful ways. And yes, this was a ludicrous, fantasy-fueled romp of a story. But there were just enough moments of emotional truth to temper the silliness. So I liked it.

And the Winner is…

Having set up this juxtaposition between three YA books that center around fictional bands… I think they don’t have as much in common as I set them up to do. At least, not all three. And that’s a matter of tone. The archness, and the sarcastic comedy of The Haters and Kill The Boy Band gel together, and I could see both books appealing to the same reader really easily, because the tone matches so well. Although, maybe the readership would divide along boy and girl lines, because of how heavily each leans on the tropes of band guys, and fangirls.

This Song is (Not) For You stands apart, because it’s more honest, and more earnest. And because it fills a need for more YA that handles complex friendships, and figuring stuff out that isn’t just “OMG True Love One and Only.” To an extent, the small, honest moments in the other two books serve the same, badly-needed function, but the whole of the story of This Song is (Not) For You focuses on that complexity, so I’m going to give it the win.

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