Piper's senior year of high school is not starting all that auspiciously. Her best friend Marissa has moved away. Her parents raided her college fund to pay for a cochlear implant for her baby sister Grace. And she the same social nonentity she always has been, a fact that is thrown into painful relief by the fact that her younger brother Finn, a freshman this year, already has more friends than she does. And as this novel begins, she somehow dares the rock band at her school to hire her as manager, regardless of the fact that she is deaf.
Piper's nominal challenge is to get this band a paying gig within a month, but her actual challenge is to build them into a team. Each member - smiling frontman Josh, his silent brother Will, growling lead guitarist Tash, virtuoso drummer Ed, and newly minted rhythm(less) guitarist Kallie - has his or her own motivation for being in the band, and I don't think I'm giving too much away to say that some of these motives prompt behavior that is, shall we say, in opposition to the cohesiveness of the group.
Ahem. We have all been there, I think.
This is a quick read but by no means a simple one. There's some interesting interpersonal stuff going on with her family and with the band - power struggles both subtle and overt, unsuspected talents, undiscovered strengths, and unacknowledged weaknesses.
Because, even though Piper is deaf and the band is called Dumb, this book is mostly about each character's blind spots. Piper's classmates and band-mates don't realize the extent to which Piper can lip-read, or that she can't hear them at all when she can't see their faces. (I've got moderate hearing loss myself and I swear if I could just wear a sign that says, "LOOK AT ME DAMMIT" my life would be a lot easier.)
Piper's parents don't realize how badly they've hurt Piper by turning her deaf sister into a hearing sister. Piper's father especially is unaware that his every action - including a blanket refusal to learn sign language and his enthusiasm about Grace's implant - signals to Piper that he considers her to be damaged goods. Even Piper's mom, herself the daughter of two deaf parents, finds it hard to believe that Piper is qualified to manage a band.
And Piper herself has plenty of blind spots: she doesn't see how imperiously she calls upon Finn to interpret sign language for her, nor does she realize the committment he has made to communicating with her by becoming fluent in ASL. She's limited to IM'ing with Marissa because Marissa's webcam is supposedly broken. She is seriously self-deluded about her relationship with her chess club partner; and is shocked to learn that her reflexive dislike of the perfectly groomed Kallie is in fact unwarranted prejudice.
I love a high school rock and roll novel. For some kids, music is everything when they are teenagers. They spend hours parsing lyrics and following harmony lines. Music is an escape and an potent means of self-expression. I spent some time this week listening to the music that was most important to me in high school (Rush, ok? Shut up!), remembering how intensely we listened back then.
There's a lot of growth and movement in Five Flavors of Dumb, but one of the most important voyages any of the characters take is Piper's journey to rock and roll... and when she gets there, it is just like you remembered.
I picked up Five Flavors of Dumb because people I respect enjoyed it, and because I loved the long-haired girl in big sunglasses and bigger boots on the cover. I loved the drama - and I am not a drama person. I loved the organic way that relationships developed and resolved. I loved that when there's a makeover, it's not of the person you think. And when Piper decides to ditch that long hair, she gets it dyed, too - Atomic Pink! My sister!
Who else has reviewed this book? Everybody has reviewed this book!
Abby the Librarian has.
Sam at Parenthetical reviewed it.
The Book Divas.
And One More Page, who was reminded of Robin Benway's Audrey Wait! I've seen that comparison in a few of these reviews, and I have to say I thought of that book myself... but I think it's just because of the rock and roll. Audrey, Wait! was fluffier, and I don't mean that as criticism.