The Bad Decisions Playlist

The Bad Decisions Playlist

by Michael Rubens


View All Available Formats & Editions


Sixteen-year-old Austin is always messing up and then joking his way out of tough spots. The sudden appearance of his allegedly dead father, who happens to be the very-much-alive rock star Shane Tyler, stops him cold. Austin—a talented musician himself—is sucked into his newfound father’s alluring music-biz orbit, pulling his true love, Josephine, along with him. None of Austin’s previous bad decisions, resulting in broken instruments, broken hearts, and broken dreams, can top this one. Witty, audacious, and taking adolescence to the max, Austin is dragged kicking and screaming toward adulthood in this hilarious, heart-wrenching YA novel.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

“I’m lazy, and I’m a coward, but I’ll do pretty much anything if a girl is watching.” With that opening line, Rubens (Sons of the 613) introduces goodhearted screw-up Austin Methune, who is in danger of failing 12th grade if he doesn’t pass summer school, but is otherwise occupied thinking about girls, weed, music, and his mother’s stuffy lawyer boyfriend, Rick. Further complicating Austin’s life are Josephine, the math tutor he’s hopelessly (in all senses of the word) in love with, and the alcoholic rock-star father he didn’t know existed, who is trying to make a comeback, both musically and with Austin’s mother. Austin has musical talent, too, but is terrified of success. Rubens has a great handle on Austin’s quick-witted, self-deprecating voice as he recounts one disaster after another, whether it’s destroying Rick’s $4,000 mandolin or falling down a hill on a commercial-grade lawn mower while trying to pay Rick back for said mandolin. Funny and painful, it’s a sharply etched portrait of fallible human beings living, loving, screwing up, and making do—and a fine look at the Twin Cities music scene. Ages 14–up. Agent: John Silbersack, Trident Media Group. (Aug.)

Kirkus Reviews

A pot-smoking slacker with a habit of writing half-songs meets his long-lost father in this droll, moving novel."I'm lazy, and I'm a coward, but I'll do pretty much anything if a girl is watching." So proclaims Austin Methune, a white 16-year-old with an energetic narrative voice. During a disastrous attempt to woo a group of girls, he manages to get his mother's boyfriend's expensive mandolin destroyed by a bitter bully. Austin receives an ultimatum: either go to military school or attend summer school and tutoring sessions to pass algebra and join the boyfriend's lawn-care business to pay off the remaining debt. Distractions come in the form of Shane Tyler, Austin's musical idol and, it turns out, longtime absent father. Austin chooses to reconnect with his father while keeping it a secret from his mother. "I have a mission! I have a goal, something to focus on!" Rubens writes with a deft comic hand. Though Austin appears a shirker, his self-deprecating remarks and melodramatic wit will hook readers. As he neglects his mother, friends, and obligations for his father, music, and loving his tutor, Austin finds it hard to abandon his carefree new lifestyle. The further Austin messes up, the harder he falls. Still, Austin's struggle to do good makes for a fun time. A charming, at times brutally funny peek inside a slacker's mind. (Fiction. 14-18)

From the Publisher

"An infectious read. . . . The key is the amount of heart with which Rubens infuses his characters. They are flawed, authentic, and tragically real. . . .Tailor-made for teen boys and the people who, for better or worse, know them."

"Funny and painful, it’s a sharply etched portrait of fallible human beings living, loving, screwing up, and making do—and a fine look at the Twin Cities music scene."
—Publishers Weekly

"A charming, at times brutally funny peek inside a slacker's mind."

School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up—Austin Methune is your classic 16-year-old screw-up. Though his mother told him that his father had died, he meets the man—who turns out to be Shane Tyler, the famous musician. Shane seems perfect: a parent who doesn't nag or stress over math grades, who encourages his son's love for music, and who seems truly happy to finally have Austin in his life. The veneer falls away quickly as Austin learns that his father is a heroin addict and completely unreliable. Mix in a few intense weeks of teen-angsty love, followed by a devastating break-up, and Austin is an emotional train wreck. The book takes a dramatic turn when Austin "borrows" his soon-to-be-stepfather's car and drives all night to New York City in an attempt to put on the show that his father has bailed on. The consequences of this seem to have a sobering effect. Two unlikely friends will also help save him from himself; with good humor and humility, Austin begins to finally get it together. Aaron Landon's narration is excellent, and Austin's self-deprecating voice is perfect. VERDICT Recommended. A funny though emotionally charged addition to any collection.—Suzanne Dix, The Seven Hills School, Cincinnati

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544096677
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 08/02/2016
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.30(d)
Lexile: HL800L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt


I went looking for trouble / and trouble went looking for me /
well me and trouble, we met in the middle /
what a sight for the devil to see

I’m lazy, and I’m a coward, but I’ll do pretty much anything if a girl is watching.
     And there’re several of them watching right now, really good-looking ones, maybe the best-looking in school, at least in that blond cheerleadery sort of way, because that’s what they are​—​Alison Johnson and Kate Schwartz and Patty Nordstrom and Marcy Ueland, all of them calling out to me and laughing and egging me on.
     Which is why I’m doing something this dumb-ass stupid, standing in the canoe like a Venetian gondolier as I wobble my way across Cedar Lake, paddling an erratic line toward the beach where they’re all stretched out like languid kittens in bikinis.
     “Hold tight, ladies!” I call out. “I’m coming to serenade you!” They cheer and hoot and applaud.
     Whoa. Bad wobble. High-wire moment of flailing arms and stuttery teeter-tottering, then I recover. Not sure if the weed is helping or hurting.
     “I’m fine! No worries!” I announce, and keep paddling.
     How many different flavors of stupid is this? A few. First off because of course it’s not just the hot cheerleaders on the beach, it’s the hot cheerleaders and the four massive scowling guys from the varsity hockey team, and even from fifty yards away I can tell that they’re a lot less amused by my impending visit than the girls are. I can make out a torn-open case of Miller High Life and lots of empties on the beach, and each hockey player has a can in his hand. Just what they need to make them less aggro: beer.
     As I was climbing into the canoe, preparing to set off from the little willow-protected cove where Devon and Alex and I were smoking the world’s worst pot, Devon said, “Dude, Todd Malloy is over there.”
     Todd Malloy, legendary bully and scourge of the Edina public school system. Not nearly the biggest of them all, but by far the meanest. The sort of person who would push a kid with cerebral palsy. Which he’s done, because I saw him. And then punch the kid who makes a halfhearted attempt to intervene. Which he’s also done, because I saw that, too. Up close, because that intervener was me. I got a black eye for my efforts, and there wasn’t even a girl watching.
     Just before I pushed off, Devon said, “What are you doing? You think you’re going to add those girls to your playlist?”
     His term, not mine, for the girls I’ve been with.
     “What you’re going to do,” he said, “is get your ass kicked.”
     “Where’s your sense of romance and adventure?” I asked him.
     “Where’s your sense of not getting your ass kicked?”
     “It’s all right,” said Alex, who I’d thought was asleep, his spiky bleached punk-rock hair crunched into the damp sand. “He won’t even make it over there.”
     Which is probably accurate. That’s part two of the stupid. Everyone knows you shouldn’t really stand up in a canoe, especially when you’re a wee bit altered, but of course being a wee bit altered tends to make you forget those sorts of facts. I’m pretty likely to do a header into the lake, and I’m not a great swimmer, so there’s a good chance I’ll drown and get eaten by carp.
     Which might actually be a blessing, considering I’ve got the mandolin slung over my shoulder​—​stupid part three​—​and it won’t survive a dunk in the murky gray-green water any better than me. And it’s not just any old mandolin. It’s an actual old mandolin, a beautiful bluegrass mandolin. Vintage. Antique.
     Also . . . it’s not exactly my mandolin.
     Strictly speaking, it belongs to Rick the Lawyer, my mom’s boyfriend. He bought it to demonstrate to her that she’s rubbing off on him, that he’s learning to be like her, to be fun!Yayyy! A grateful lab rat in her grand project, Extracting the Stick from Rick’s Rectum: C’mon, Rick! Let’s take swing-dance lessons! C’mon, Rick! Let’s go to the circus! C’mon! Let’s go on a hot-air-balloon ride! C’mon! You should get a hobby! Wheee!
     So he surprised her by getting the mandolin. Except you know how often he plays it? NEVER. And you know what it sounded like the few times that he has? ASS. It’s just another expensive thing for him to collect, like the way he has to have the most expensive watch and has to have the Audi TT, and the carbon-fiber bike that I think he’s ridden, like, once, and the frigging seventy-two-inch flat-screen TV in his downtown Minneapolis apartment. Which, yes, is the penthouse.
     He brought the mandolin over to our house about six months ago during one of their “sleepovers”​—​that’s what my mom calls it when they both need to get some​—​and then he left it there. I think he was sort of showing off​—​Look at my new toy!—​because he knows I like to play instruments and write songs and whatnot, and other than a twenty-five-dollar keyboard and a garage-sale ukulele, all I have is the crappy guitar my mystery dad left behind when he died, which was before I was even born.
     Sleepovers. Just call them humpy-humpy time. I’m sixteen. I get it.
     I always used to ask my mom about my real dad​—​Who was he? What did he do? What was he like? She’d deflect and deflect and deflect, until finally one evening at dinner she blew up and slammed down her fork and said, “He was an asshole, okay?”
     I was six. That’s the last time I asked.
     Anyways, the mandolin. Rick leaves the mandolin at my mom’s, but he also tells me not to touch it. Like he’s taunting me. Actually, he tells my mom to tell me: “Honey, Richard would prefer that you only handle the mandolin when he’s there to supervise.”
     I need you to understand how beautiful this mandolin sounds. Not plinky-plinky and annoying, but rich and warm and lovely, tobacco and honey and brilliant stars in the summer night sky.
     It seemed a shame to keep that loveliness trapped and voiceless in a hard-shell case, so I started pulling out the mandolin and researching stuff on the Web and practicing a lot while my mom earned her twelve dollars an hour at the salon doing the nails of rich Edina ladies. I’m pretty much crap at, let’s see . . . everything. Life in general, really. But I can sing, and I can play things. I can play guitar and ukulele really well, I can play keyboards not too horribly, and I’m no Chris Thile, but now I can play this beautiful mandolin.
     So earlier today, when Devon came rattling over in his dying Subaru and asked if I wanted to head to the lake and rent a canoe, I said, Hold on, let me grab something.
     Let the stupid commence.

∗  ∗  ∗

What other stupid things have I done for girls?
     In third grade I walked across the top of the monkey bars in the school playground because Martha Meinke was watching. I entertained her with the little dance I did in the middle of the bars, and then by breaking my arm when I fell.
     I lost a tooth and gained a concussion for Danica Morgan, something involving a steep hill and a sled and a jump and an oak tree.
     I gave Kelly Harmon a ride around the block in my mom’s car, which resulted in exactly zero injuries to either car or occupants, but I still got in trouble, seeing as how I was thirteen at the time. Grounded for two weeks, no TV, no sweet cereal, no comic books, no Internet, but worth it for the kiss I earned.
     Later on, things got more complex.
     I started running for Samantha Wu. That lasted three days and one puke.
     I took Spanish because Annie Narcisse idly mentioned that she wanted to know what the Clash were singing in the background of “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” That lasted one semester and a D minus.
     There was a brief and really weird episode I’d rather not go into where I joined an evangelical church group because of Jennifer Vikmanis.
     I started smoking for Gretchen Olson. I tried to stop smoking for Abby Winter. There was trail hiking for Jessica Clift, PETA stuff for Elizabeth Conner, astronomy for Lara Denton (late nights; lots of naughtiness under the stars). I have a messy blotch of an abandoned homemade tattoo on my forearm which I started for Erin Baltimore.
     What else?
     Oh, right, the only thing I’m really ashamed of: For Hayley Benson I pretended for several months to like EDM.
     And now today’s adventure.
     “Are you ladies ready for awesomeness?”
     “We’re ready!”
     More cheers and hooting. More dark scowls from non-females. I’m about twenty yards from the beach.
     Did I mention that, amid all the other stupid, I shouldn’t be here at all? Because I shouldn’t be here at all. Where I should be is at the first day of summer school. Math. I have particular issues with math. I need to overcome those issues, or I’ll be repeating eleventh grade. So Monday mornings are reserved for summer school. But the weather is so nice this morning, and I’m sure I can just show up next week, and carpe YOLO . . .
     Ten yards. Todd Malloy is sitting up now and glaring at me, his irritation further evidenced by the complex rhythm he’s tapping out on his thigh with one hand, and on Alison’s incredible behind with the other. Weird fact about Todd Malloy: talented drummer. Or was. He used to play in the school band, and even when he was thirteen the upper school would ask him to play the drum set during school concerts. You’d think we’d be kindred spirits, united by music. But no. At some point Todd went to the dark side and became a jock, and jocks at my school don’t play instruments, they beat up people who play instruments.
     My voyage is coming to an end in unexpected safety. I hop out into knee-deep water and drag the canoe onto the sand.
     “Greetings, ladies!” Bows and little curlicue hand gestures, like a French aristocrat, the girls applauding. “I have arrived to entertain you! And you gentlemen, too!”
     Alison, the loveliest of them all, says, “Hi, Austin!”
     Todd Malloy says, “Hey, nutsack, get the hell out of here.”
     “Todd!” says Alison, swatting at him. “Go ahead, play us something. Strum a tune!” She claps her hands grandly.
     “‘Strum a tune’?” says Todd. “He’s going to run away and pee himself.”
     “Okay,” I say, “just to set the record straight? I did not pee myself. Any requests?”
     “Yeah, but you sure pussied out, didn’t you?”
     “There were extenuating circumstances.”
     “Yeah, like you’re an extenuated pussy.”
     I will explain this exchange later, okay? It’s excruciatingly embarrassing, and at the moment I’m pleasantly buzzed and there are girls and let’s just leave it for now. Thank you.
     “Well, at that time I didn’t have such a lovely audience,” I say. Really, I’ll explain soon. “So who’s got a request?”
     “How about go screw yourself?” suggests Todd.
     “A great song, but not for mixed company!” I say jauntily. Then, in cheesy lounge-singer voice, looking right at Alison: “How about a special tune for a special lady?” She smiles back at me. “Here’s an oldie but goodie by Elvis Costello. Anyone? Elvis Costello? No? Okay. The song is called”​—​dramatic pause, smoky slow-mo wink at Alison​—​“‘Alison.’”
     “Awwwww!” say all the girls.
     “Dude, you don’t get out of here and I’m gonna smash your friggin’ ukulele over your friggin’ head,” says Todd.
     “No you won’t,” I say in the same jolly tone. “Because it’s not a ukulele. It’s a mandolin!” The girls are giggling. I play a chord. “Isn’t that a gorgeous sound?”
     Todd gets to his feet. I don’t think he appreciates the subtle acoustic overtones this mandolin produces.
     “I’m warning you,” he says.
     Todd is wearing a shirt that says FIGHTING SOLVES EVERYTHING.
     “Todd!” says Alison. “Go ahead​—​play!” she says to me.
     “Thank you.”
     I start playing, singing the opening verse.
     “Awww!” say all the girls again.
     GLERRRK!! That’s the sound the mandolin makes when Todd lunges at me and clamps a hand on the neck of the instrument, strangling the sound.
     “Whoa whoa whoa! I haven’t even gotten to the chorus, the part where I go, ‘Aaaaaaalison. . . .’”
     “Todd, stop it!” says Alison.
     Todd yanks violently on the instrument, pulling it out of my hands, the strap popping off from the bottom peg. “Um . . . could I have that back?”
     “I warned you!” says Todd.
     The intelligent reaction here would be terror. But no. I’m stoned, I’m pissed off at Todd, the girls are all watching, and I can feel my pulse rising and my grin getting manic.
     “I’ll tell you what,” I say. “You just go ahead and hold on to that, and I’ll finish the song a cappella.”
     “Do you think I’m bluffing?”
     “Oh, Aaaaaaalisooo​—”
     This is going to be a really bad conversation with Rick.

Customer Reviews