Lemonade Mouth, by Mark Peter Hughes
Delacorte; March 2007; 352 pp; $15.99 HC
Core Audience: 14+ readers of both genders
Strengths: Nice blend of characters; told in both male and female voices; good feel for the trials and tribulations of small town high school life
Remember that famous scene in the Breakfast Club? The one where they’re all hanging out in detention? A bunch of kids from all areas of the high school food chain, brought together by circumstance for one fateful moment. Okay—now imagine what would happen if everyone in that room was musical. Including the teacher.
That’s the unexpected jumping-off point for Mark Peter Hughes’ new novel, which chronicles the unlikely rise of five students from the freshman ghetto to teen rock visionaries in a small-town RI high school. Told in the alternating voices of the various main characters, both male and female, this is a story of some students who improvise a song one day in detention out of boredom, using whatever they have on hand. The teacher hears it, and contrary to everyone’s expectations, suggests they try playing together. The five students, who prior to that day have never had much to say to each other, decide to give it a try. In the process they manage to create a band—the aforementioned Lemonade Mouth—that is so original and genius that it starts a little revolution in the school and unseats the popular hierarchy in the process. All of the classic high school archetypes are here: the shy and misunderstood poet, the rebellious transplant, the overachiever, the insecure funny guy, and the bohemian hipster to be, but Hughes manages to flesh them out with thoughtful writing and some very honest situational comedy.
For those of you who read Hughes’ wonderful first novel I Am the Wallpaper —(which I adore, by the way. The paperback is coming in February from Random House- 978-0440420460)—you may recognize Wen, who played a peripheral but important role in that story. Here he is front and center, dealing with the discomfort of having a crush on his Dad’s curvaceous new girlfriend, and trying to get through his days in the grind. Although there are passing references to the previous story, this novel is fully independent, but it’s fun to see him in his context if you’ve read the other one.
I’m pleased that Hughes turned in such a strong effort for his second novel. His writing has an offbeat honesty that will put him in the pantheon of great YA writers if he can keep it up. I am especially impressed with his ability to write spicy and believable girls’ voices. This story has just enough teen angst and edginess in it to ring true without crossing any discomfort lines. This is one of those unusual novels that you can recommend to every reader with a clean conscience.