Full disclosure: Antony John is both a local St. Louis author and a friend.
Last October, at the MBA regional trade show, I went up to say hi to Catherine Gilbert Murdock. She lives near Children's Book World, so I'd sold her kids books on occasion and chatted with her at events. She told me that she had an author friend in St. Louis whose new book was really good and that I should get a copy as soon as I could and get to know him. This was excellent advance info to have, because I have to tell you that hearing that someone local or someone you know has written a book is a scary thing for exactly one reason: what if the book isn't any good? I have been very lucky in this aspect, as the authors local to CBW are awesome, and St. Louis sports a whole bunch of amazing authors as well. But every time you hear about a new one, you cross your heart and hope with all your might that the book will be a good one. So hearing from Catherine that I needed to get my hands on FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB was something that had me emailing my Penguin sales rep right away. And then I actually met Antony before I got my hands on his book, and he turned out to be super nice, so I was crossing my heart and hoping again. So what happened when I finally got my hands on the book and read it? It turned into my favorite contemporary YA novel of the year, and tomorrow night at 7, we'll be celebrating its release with a live high school band and a cake that's probably too big and a whole bunch of wine. (A far better outcome than even I had hoped for.) When Piper was six, she began to lose her hearing. Now she's a senior in high school and she gets by with a combination of hearing aids, lip reading, and signing with whoever's willing to learn – which leaves out her dad, who for some reason has never learned how. Piper's got a baby sister named Grace, and their parents just bought Grace a cochlear implant. With Piper's college money. Without asking her first. Now the deafness that Piper and Grace had in common is gone, and Piper feels more than ever like her parents see deafness as a tragic disability to be cured whenever possible – and that her college education is not as important as making Grace as perfect as she can possibly be made. Frustration, a need for money, and a strange set of circumstances lead Piper down an unexpected road: she becomes the manager of Dumb, a high school band who just won Seattle's annual Teen Battle of the Bands. She quickly learns that her lack of hearing is hardly going to be the hardest thing she has to overcome in her new position; Dumb have problems of their own that are about to become Piper's problems. As her experiences with the band grow, she begins to stretch in ways that are entirely foreign to her parents, adding to the already great tension that hangs around their house. Ultimately Piper will need to learn an entirely new way of navigating her various worlds, and she isn't entirely sure that her parents are ready for her to break out of her box. Add in a possibly fragile relationship with her younger brother, Finn, and a possibly changing friendship with Chess Club-acquaintance-turned-band-member Ed, and Piper's got more on her plate than most people can handle. Piper? Awesome character. Completely awesome. Voice: totally female and believable, which a lot of male writers are really bad at. Exploration of the Seattle music scene: completely cool. Family relationship: multilayered; realistic; heart-wrenching at times. Emotional without being overwrought. Antony's writing: effortless. (At least in feel. I am sure he shed more than a little blood, sweat and tears over this one, but it reads like it just poured out of his head.) FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB: so very highly recommended.