I am a huge fan of Erin Dionne. Her Total Tragedy of A Girl Named Hamlet is one of my favorite books for young readers. So I was thrilled to read her new one. I was equally thrilled that it was about band geeks, which is something I am quite familiar with. I was a band geek in high school. I played clarinet for two marching bands, Worthington High School and Bellefontaine High School. Elsie is a much more serious musician than I ever was. She is a bit of a prodigy on the French Horn, just like her dad who plays first chair for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She wants to be a professional musician. One of the ways to make that happen is to make it into the prestigious Shining Birches music camp. Because her father was on tour in Austria, she missed auditions for the youth orchestra. Now her only option for the ensemble requirement is marching band. She hates the idea but it is necessary for her to audition for Shining Birches. First of all, she can’t even play the French Horn. It is a giant trumpet called a mellophone. Elsie is socially awkward and has only had one friend in the past. Since that friend moved away she hasn’t had any. Marching band is a team effort. So she has to interact with the other members and stumbles into making friends. Keeping them is another story. Erin Dionne never says Elsie is on the Autism Spectrum (and I don’t mean to suggest that she is,) however she does have some similar characteristics. It never occurs to Elsie to ask her friends about themselves or what they may be interested in. She is very wrapped up in herself, her music and her routine. This backfires on her and she is not sure how to make it up to her friends. The social world is so complicated. It is interesting that once she loses the friends she realizes how much she wants them. Elsie’s parents don’t make it easier. They don’t seem to trust her and it made me so mad when they wouldn’t let her ride the bus home from band competition. Reading the chapters about band camp brought back so many wonderful memories of my time in marching band. I hadn’t thought about things like sectionals and parade rest for many years. This book was a joy to read!
Ideas for discussing with teens:
Are you in band? What do you play? If you don’t, what instrument would interest you?
Elsie is not sure what to do when her friends are mad at her. If you were standing by what would you advise her to do?
Both Punk and Jake seem to like her. What would you have done?
Talk about parent pressure. Are you ever pressured to follow in your parent’s footsteps?
Talk about reciprocal friendship. What does it mean? How is someone a good friend?
Elsie gets stuck with the nickname,” zombie chicken.” Talk about nicknames and how people get them.
Would you have picked Shining Birches or band camp? What should Elsie do?