Thursday, March 24, 2011

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

"Could it be that after eighteen years Dad saw me that way--a poor girl struggling to be understood, who achieved self-sufficiency only by virtue of others' help?"

See, the title is kind of a joke. Dumb is the name of a hard-rock band in Anthony John's debut novel, and here the "dumb" refers to the IQ type of dumb, not the silent, uncommunicative type of dumb.  (The "five flavors" refers to the bands five members.) However,  Piper, the protagonist and narrator of Five Flavors, is deaf.  Since her deafness developed at age 6, she can speak and lip-read, which allows her to function in the hearing world to a certain extent--she attends her neighbourhood high school, where she gets good grades and  kicks the pants off the other chess club members without particularly trying.  But although Piper is neither type of dumb, she is struggling with uncertainty about her future.  For years her dream has been to attend  Gallaudet University, a liberal-arts college for deaf students, "a place where I'd automatically fit in, instead of standing out in all the wrong ways."   When her parents spend the college fund her grandparents left to her on a cochlear implant for her deaf baby sister Grace without even telling her, Piper is left with complicated feelings of frustration and powerlessness.

Wanting to stretch herself in new directions, Piper signs on as Dumb's manager, even though she can't hear a note they play.  And this, for me, was when the book really came alive.  Piper develops a lot of inner power on the road to shaping Dumb into a decent band--some of her challenges include the fact that the band can't play in synch, is the only hard rock band in the world with no drummer,  and has no original songs.  One of the guitarists is still learning to play guitar?  The band spends  more time arguing than practicing?  The talk show host who has booked Dumb on her show is expecting an easy listening number?   Piper takes it all on, and more, on the road to finding Dumb a place in garage-band rock history.

I'm sure there will be an audience for Dumb because of the deaf-heroine angle or the rock music angle, but I actually appreciated Piper's ferocious business smarts the most.  John presents us with a heroine who is decisive, thinks strategically, and makes herself heard.   I liked Piper a lot, and would recommend Five Flavors of Dumb  to any girl thinking of engaging with the business world--it's never too soon to find yourself some inspiration!

Five Flavors of Dumb doesn't seem to have an official trailer, but I like this unofficial one, put together by the Arlington Public Library teen librarians:

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