This compelling collection of stories explores the powerful impact that music has in our lives—especially in the lives of teens. Each story strikes a new note: Ron Koertge introduces us to the boys in the band—the marching band; Joseph Bruchac contributes a Native American boy with no rhythm whatsoever; Jennifer Armstrong writes about what was perhaps the first battle of the bands—during the American Civl War; and David Levithan offers up a love song that speaks powerfully to an unintended audience. But while ...
This compelling collection of stories explores the powerful impact that music has in our lives—especially in the lives of teens. Each story strikes a new note: Ron Koertge introduces us to the boys in the band—the marching band; Joseph Bruchac contributes a Native American boy with no rhythm whatsoever; Jennifer Armstrong writes about what was perhaps the first battle of the bands—during the American Civl War; and David Levithan offers up a love song that speaks powerfully to an unintended audience. But while each story is different, they combine into a harmonic song of praise—for the depths music can reach in us, and the power it has to bind us together.
From the Hardcover edition.
Twelve stories describe the power of music in young people's lives, from forming a community of individuals in a high school band to helping a young man connect to his Indian heritage through ancient songs.
In a dozen short stories, writers ponder What a Song Can Do: 12 Riffs on the Power of Music, edited by Jennifer Armstrong. In Ron Koertge's "Variations on a Theme," nine high school band members (writing as "percussion," "clarinet," etc.) tell their own stories bound by their role in the ensemble. The titular story by David Levithan focuses on a young guitarist struggling to cope with his parents and his boyfriend while music consumes his thoughts. Other authors include Dian Curtis Regan, Gail Giles and Joseph Bruchac. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From The Critics
"Theme" is a term used in literature and music; but in Jennifer Armstrong's compilation of short stories, she conflates the two and successfully shows the universalities of music. It was most refreshing to find these stories did not all portray music as the great healer of all the world's pains. In Ann Manheimer's "Riffs," she tells the story of a boy named Lee who is torn by the dilemma of playing with his band, or caring for his hospitalized mother. The 'riff' is not entirely internal, however; Lee's father is adamant about him staying home. Naturally, there are stories about the very real, binding quality of music. In Dian Curtis Regan's "Tangled Notes in a Watermelon," Cora is afflicted with synesthesia, a condition that causes Cora and her late grandmother to see colors and objects while they hear music. This story, about mourning and also a crush, is served on a table made of surrealism. As with any collection, some entries are simply less palpable than others. Some are a bit flattened by instances of bland narrative voices, trite dialogue, and underhanded preachiness. With that being said, the biggest success in this book is the deliberate circumspection that Armstrong took in the compilation. 2004, Knopf, 208 pp., Ages young adult.
—Edward A. Wade
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Armstrong offers a dozen perspectives on music's life-altering possibilities in this short-story collection. Ron Koertge's "Variations on a Theme" cleverly gives voice to what motivates various students to join a school band and how that decision affects their lives. A gay teen shares his inner struggle to accept his own sexuality in David Levithan's sensitive "What a Song Can Do." The pain of being forced into the role of child prodigy in one musical form until one's own true voice can be heard underlies Jude Mandell's verse selection. Music's connection to life is seen from myriad angles without overpowering the stories, which all have interesting plots and well-developed characters. Brief biographical sketches of the authors are appended and include a description of the importance of music in their lives. This collection will certainly speak to many teens on a very personal level and will open the eyes and the ears of its readers.-Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Alas, this collection does not sing. Like many anthologies built around a theme, most of these stories have a manufactured air-the music inserted like a clause in a narrative sentence. There are some bright notes, however. Ron Koertge's opening story offers his usual wry look inside the heads of a handful of teens in the high school band-who they are and why they play the instruments they chose-each sketched for a full beat. Dian Curtis Regan's story illuminates synesthesia-hearing music in colors, two senses colliding. Ann Manheimer's "Riffs" is a children-of-Holocaust-survivors story where music is only the McGuffin; David Levithan limns a tender gay love story in lyrics in the tale that gives the anthology its title. The Rom (Gypsies), the album Buena Vista Social Club, and the Civil War figure in various tales to musical accompaniment. Minor, but you can occasionally dance to it. (Short stories. 10+)