One of the best contemporaries I’ve read this summer.
Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance
No. of pages: 338
Max: Chill. Sports. Video games. Gay and not a big deal, not to him, not to his mom, not to his buddies. And a secret: An encounter with an older kid that makes it hard to breathe, one that he doesn’t want to think about, ever.
Jordan: The opposite of chill. Poetry. His “wives” and the Chandler Mall. Never been kissed and searching for Mr. Right, who probably won’t like him anyway. And a secret: A spiraling out of control mother, and the knowledge that he’s the only one who can keep the family from falling apart.
Throw in a rickety, 1980s-era food truck called Coq Au Vinny. Add in prickly pears, cloud eggs, and a murky idea of what’s considered locally sourced and organic. Place it all in Mesa, Arizona, in June, where the temp regularly hits 114. And top it off with a touch of undeniable chemistry between utter opposites.
Over the course of one summer, two boys will have to face their biggest fears and decide what they’re willing to risk — to get the thing they want the most.
This is a quaint contemporary with two gay protagonists told in alternating perspectives, switching with each chapter. Max and Jordan each have their own issues to wrestle with, and ‘The Music of What Happens’ is a fantastic character driven story that had me hooked from the first page.
Max is a sporty ‘dude guy’ who on the surface seems to have it all going his way. Out to his closest circle of friends, he’s comfortable in his role as the smiling, friendly jock – that is until he gets to know Jordan after accepting a job to work in his food van. Later he begins to question why he puts up this smiling front, stand up to his father who may be exuding some toxic masculinity, and falling into a dangerous situation which will have long standing repercussions.
Jordan has a reactionary personality, but is the responsible one in the family ever since his father died three years ago. Jordan and his mother are still dealing with the loss. With the bank threatening to repossess their family home because of his mother’s gambling addiction, Jordan rolls up his sleeves and runs his father’s food truck in hope of making enough money to keep their house. But it’s difficult when you don’t know a thing about food trucks. It’s a steep learning curve – especially when being prepared is not a part of your personality. Jordan is pretty naive and innocent in terms of the wilder world, him and his two female best friends (his wives) live in their own little bubble. Meeting Max helps bring him out of his shell and learn to be a little more independent. Take a stand. It’s a good thing too because like the frequent dust storms that weather Mesa, Arizona, Jordan will need these new skills, and his friends, to make it through an oncoming storm of a different nature.
Having two well-rounded main characters, flaws and all, draw and grow from each other was a wonderful concept to slowly evolve on the pages of ‘The Music of What Happens.’ The best friends of both of our main characters are supportive, have their own small arcs, and it was a real testament to friendship. We also see parents have a fairly strong presence in the narrative, warts and all.
‘The Music of What Happens’ was instantly relatable for me. Having lost a parent, being a proud furbaby parent, and knowing what it’s like to have to get your head down and bum up and work your behind off for fear of losing your home… I saw so much of my youth in this novel. Not to mention the witty, catty banter of Jordan’s ‘wives’ is so much like my high school girlfriends. Revealing tragic family secrets – like coming out in a sense… this book has a lot going on, and it’s all handled with a gentle composure.
I’ve enjoyed Bill Konigsberg’s writing style in everything of his I’ve read. He always managed to make me cry, laugh and gasp in every novel. For a contemporary this is paced really well. I never had a moment of needing to rest or skim forward. Totally engaging. And I loved the inclusivity of the narrative with diverse backgrounds across the board.
Some trigger warnings around sexual assault, addiction, minor swearing, but it’s all dealt with in a delicate and responsible manner that does not have me concerned in letting the younger end of the YA demographic reading ‘The Music of What Happens.’
The plot is predictable in that I could see the two main characters ending up together – but in contemporaries these days, its never certain that they remain that way. Besides that, there are plot twists I did not see coming. Really. I was shocked. It was a delicious read.
On a side note – loving the cover art. I’m seeing a lot more of the hand-drawn artwork, like for a manga or comic.
Highly recommend this one for lovers of YA Contemporaries and LGBTQIA+ representation.
Overall feeling: Atmospheric
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