Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John is easily one of the best books I have read all year. It's so layered, so complex and I can't get over how amazed I was by this book. My very first reaction after finishing this book was to say (out loud) Oh My LOVE! Antony has created this rich and emotional story filled with real people. I read this book back in March and am only just now writing my review because for the first time ever, I am at a loss for words to adequately describe how I'm feeling about a book. I've started and deleted this review more times than I can count, and it's taken me a lot of tries to get something out there that I think *might* do justice to this phenomenal story.
Nothing about Piper's story is ever simple or easy. She's the only deaf person in her family, her father has refused to learn sign language (he has his reasons, but ultimately leaves Piper feeling like he's ashamed of her and thinks she's broken), her best friend (also deaf) has just moved because her school district just cut their deaf programs due to budget cuts (and Piper's family moved into an area a bit above their income level so Piper could have those deaf programs) her dad got laid off. Oh, AND her parent's took money from Piper's personal college fund so that her baby sister, also born deaf, could have a cochlear implant, which makes it so she can hear. And that is what leads the deaf girl to become the manager of the band called Dumb.
Talk about confusing. How is Piper supposed to feel about any of that but especially her parents?! She can't really be angry at them, even though they stole from her, because that would make her cruel and selfish, not wanting her baby sister to be able to hear. But it makes Piper feel worse, because they spend so much time cooing over new baby ears that it makes Piper feel even more like they (dad especially) are ashamed of her, and think she's something to be fixed or 'normalized' if possible. But really — How do you make that kind of decision without even telling your daughter that you have just taken away any chance she had of attending her Dream college, so that the baby doesn't have to be like her. OUCH. I was so pissed at her parents. Seriously. SO pissed. But at the same time, it was obvious that, even with all their struggles and problems, her parents really and truly did love her. Piper had a real family — they fight, sometimes everyone thinks everyone else kinda sucks, they have issues, nothing is perfect but they love. I think that this is exactly what is missing from most YA books right now. So many books have that crappy YA family where the parents suck or are neglectful or whatever. But this is far more realistic. Families have problems, but most families are tied together by this strong bond of love and all anger aside, Piper had that. Sometimes it's murky, sometimes she doesn't really feel it, but it's always there and it's mutual.
My heart went out to Piper. But then, I kinda got over it. Because Piper became, well Piper! The high schools awesomely hot new band, who just won a big competition, play an impromptu concert on the school steps and Piper finds herself entranced. At first, she's just caught behind a crowd of kids, trying to ignore the awkward stares of people watching the deaf girl 'listening' to a band, but something about the energy becomes contagious and Piper gets swept up in it. And then in what was probably more of a pissing contest, but becomes something very real and desperate to Piper (after realizing she now her no college fund) Piper becomes the manager of this band and has to try to help them make it big. Imagine the challenge of that! It boggles my mind.
I just... I can't even begin to describe how much this book made me think. I spent so much time thinking about Piper and her friends, and the people in this band. She learns so much from this experience, about life, about people and family, about music (umm, helloooo awesome tour of Seattle's rock stars' homesteads!) and she also learns a lot about herself. And it was brilliant. Watching Piper grow both as herself and in relation to everyone around her was just so... amazingly intense. It's one of my favorite things about reading Contemporary. That growth is real. It doesn't need some great quest to develop. It's just a teenager, living her life, trying to make the most of the hand she's been dealt and when you take life and learn it's just perfect.
And I loved that every single character in this book is fleshed out, multi-dimensional and just flat out real. These characters could be real people. I want to search for their band's performance on Youtube and write them fan mail. Even the characters that at first glance appear to be those stereotypical fill-in-the-gaps characters are so much more than that. A lot of the characters first appearances make you think they are going to be flat, but as you get to know them through Piper, a lot of misconceptions leave and you realize there is so much more to these people (and, consequently to every people, in real life too) than immediately meets the eye, and you miss out on a lot if you just take everyone at face value. I was going to say a little something special about each of the characters, but decided that would take too long in an already long and kinda rambling review, so I am just going to tell you that they rock out loud & that you need to go read the book to figure out why.
There was really nothing missing from this novel and it's one that I want to read again and again. I have a feeling that there is more to be learned from this book every time you read it and I want that experience, I want to be able to experience this story over and over. I know that there were some things about the book that felt a little underdeveloped right after I finished reading the book, threads that I didn't think were used to their full potential, but I can't for the life of me remember what they were or why. All I feel now is this overwhelming sense of love and feeling like I need to convince everyone else to read this book (which, BTW, in true Ashley style, I have done:) ) So while the book might not be 'perfect' it's pretty darn close to it and it's one that is just amazing.
I also have to mention, very briefly, that ending. Oh my goodness, did that scene give me chills!! Seriously. I just sat there soaking in the awesome and wishing, wishing so hard that it could have been real because I just so wanted to be there when it happened! But alas. I had to settle for rereading the scene immediately after finishing the book.:) In the notes I wrote to myself, I called it — Rockin' awesome, and I still think that's a perfect description.
I'm still afraid, even after having written this whole review that I haven't done it justice, that I haven't been able to convince anyone to read it. So let me just reaffirm that this is a book worth reading. I can't imagine trying to deal with what Piper is facing but she's such a strong character. She grows a lot as a person and becomes so much more confident in herself. She doesn't like to draw attention to herself because she's different in a very noticeable and obvious way but by the book, she's more comfortable in her skin, more willing and able to let her opinion be known. I loved Piper by the end of this book and it makes me legitimately sad to think that there are people who are never going to meet her or these other wonderfully rich characters. I can't think of a single person I would hesitate to recommend this too. So what are you waiting for?! Go read it!