Book Review – ‘The Music of What Happens’ by Bill Konigsberg

One of the best contemporaries I’ve read this summer.

The Music of What Happens Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlilseGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 338

From Goodreads:

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.

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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 Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlilse

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

The Music of What Happens Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlilse

The Music of What Happens Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlilse

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Noteworthy’ by Riley Redgate

Drag of a different note…

Noteworthy Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 404

From Goodreads:

A cappella just got a makeover.

Jordan Sun is embarking on her junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts, hopeful that this will be her time: the year she finally gets cast in the school musical. But when her low Alto 2 voice gets her shut out for the third straight year—threatening her future at Kensington-Blaine and jeopardizing her college applications—she’s forced to consider nontraditional options.

In Jordan’s case, really nontraditional. A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshiped…revered…all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Jordan finds herself enmeshed in a precarious juggling act: making friends, alienating friends, crushing on a guy, crushing on a girl, and navigating decades-old rivalries. With her secret growing heavier every day, Jordan pushes beyond gender norms to confront what it means to be a girl (and a guy) in a male-dominated society, and—most importantly—what it means to be herself.

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 This was a fun book to read. Once I picked it up, I could not put it down until I reached the last page.

For the most part I enjoyed protagonist Jordan, I felt she was a fun and adventurous. I also liked how she thought about trespassing on other minority group’s territory; I.e. transgender men, gay men, and feeling like an impostor and essentially wondering if the act of disguising herself as a guy was itself was discrimination. Not as gender expression, but for a chance to join a singing troop. It can certainly be viewed that way, but in another light completely harmless. It’s all about perspective.

I enjoyed how you didn’t get a sense this had a love story in it, but I knew Jordan was going to meet a man from reading the blurb, and it was fun trying to sleuth out which person it would be. I like that is wasn’t clear until the near of the novel, because different people’s reactions played out in realistic and organic ways.

I was horrified about a certain elevator scene – I get the point of gender roles being reversed and it not being made such a big deal of – but in the aftermath (and reveal) I wondered if her fellow Sharpshooter Isaac who was in the elevator with her and listened to her drunken ramblings, then went around exposing Jordan, how nothing was brought up about that altercation. It didn’t play to bolster Isaac’s character at all.

This is so full of drama and angst I was glued to the page.

I liked the social commentary on gender, gender roles, gender identity, and sexuality. It is such a big jumbled mix and really hammers home that we are all simply human – in all different shades.

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The boys of Raven (The Sharpshooters) each had their own distinct personality, and really added colour and complexity to the world of Kensington-Blaine’s College Campus (and a great example of fantastic writing and character development.)

I’m not a big fan of poetry or song lyrics in novels – they lose their context and meaning in this medium, and I ended up skimming past the lyrics to get back into the narrative. But it’s a personal preference, some readers may enjoy the cadence. I have to admit, I learnt a lot about music and a capella just from the language used and descriptions of the group trying to pull a number together for a performance. So intricate – it really helped paint a picture in my head of how they actually sounded: which is a phenomenal task creating an imaginative aural sound from a sentence written on a page.

I think the ending was oversimplified (maybe a little trite,) but to be fair, if it wasn’t executed in this manner the book would have dragged out another couple of hundred pages. It was a cute tale. Tones of ‘A Mid-Summer Nights Dream,’ ‘Milly Willy,’ and ‘She’s the Man…’ playing with gender roles can be fun. But with such a heavy subject matter like identity and gender roles, ‘Noteworthy’ was wrapped up too quickly and too nicely. I found myself wanting a more resounding conclusion. But what a fantastic writing style. I remember the first few sentences and how expressive they were in setting a great tone for the novel.

It is predictable in that it wouldn’t be a story without Jordan getting found out – so that part was easily foreseen: but the things Jordan went through was waaay more out of the box than I had guessed. I’d expected some hijinks, but this was visceral and poignant. A great social commentary.

Overall feeling: Ay Caramba.

Noteworthy Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Noteworthy Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.