I sort of rode into my teenage musical awakening on my older siblings’ grunge/post-grunge coat tails. Well, since coats aren’t very grunge, maybe the tails of their oversized flannel shirts. Which means that as my social circle nudged the periphery of theirs, it was Nirvana and Pearl Jam playing in darkened living rooms, The Stone Temple Pilots and Silverchair’s “Frogstomp” in the car CD player etc etcNow that I’m older, and I find myself getting a bit crotchety when I see a kid in those of those mass-produced Ramones t-shirts and wanting to shriek ”do you even know who they are?”, I have to wonder if the generation preceding mine felt a similar protectiveness over “their” music. If they eyed my fourteen-year-old self askance when I “borrowed” my sister’s cherry red Doc Martens and tried to emulate what I perceived as her particularly cool brand of apathy. (It never worked, I have always been far too dorkily earnest to pull it off). But I guess part of the beauty of music is that for each person the discoveries feel like they’re being made for the very first time, profound and deeply personal, no matter how handed-down it really is. This journey of musical and personal epiphany forms part of Piper’s story in The Five Flavours of Dumb, and I have to say that this reading experience had more than a touch of nostalgia about it. Piper undergoes her own musical awakening of sorts when she takes on the role of managing high school band Dumb, with the goal of securing them a paying gig within a month. It’s a means to an end: replenishing her recently raided college fund. And Piper also happens to be deaf. The cover quote describes The Five Flavours of Dumb as “a love letter to rock music”, and that’s partially true. Set in Seattle the story traces a path through the musical history of area, most notably touching on Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix, and their respective musical legacies. But more than that it charts Piper’s growth from a manager out of necessity to a girl with a genuine passion for what she has become embroiled in, and a greater understanding of the power of music. Piper is one my favourite protagonists of late - she’s intelligent, resourceful and driven, yet not without insecurities and a streak of naivety. I confess I found those Ed and Piper scenes extremely cute. I wish Ed would make me a coffee. John has also created an cast of relatable supporting characters, a varied group of “flavours”, though some are more nuanced than others. And while I found Piper and her story both hilarious and witty, John doesn’t shy away from the tougher aspects of the plot, in particular the strained family relationships and perceptions of Piper’s deafness. While ASL and Auslan are different, I think that Chrissie Keighery’s Whisper handled the explanation and incorporation of sign language into the plot better. I’m not sure that it comes across as clearly here that sign is it’s own language, with unique grammar and syntax, and there are not always equivalent translations into English. That said, I liked how it was used to explore Piper’s different dynamics with the characters, particularly her father and brother. Another minor complaint is that some aspects of the climax beggar a little belief, especially in terms of how the Josh / Kallie situation was resolved, but honestly I found it all too entertaining to be bothered that much. I had a feeling that I was going to like this book from the synopsis and a few reviews I’d read, but I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. The humour and seriousness are well-balanced, and it never feels like an “issues book”, nor does it read like it’s being glib with the subject matter. It’s an endearing story, but it isn’t twee. It’s a fun book, but it has heart. Recommended for anyone who’s ever wanted to embrace their inner rockstar, but didn’t think they could.