Thursday, March 14, 2019

Book Review: "The Music of What Happens" by Bill Konigsberg

Whenever I read a YA rom-com featuring LGBTQ characters, I feel so happy that kids today have these books to read, to see that finding someone to love doesn't have to be a dream they'll have to give up because of whom they're attracted to.

At the same time, I can't help but be a tiny bit bitter that these books didn't exist when I was a teenager, because I certainly could have used that encouragement instead of having no role models or examples to look toward.

Bill Konigsberg's The Music of What Happens is sweet and funny and romantic, but it's also poignant and deals with some serious issues as well.

Max is an athlete. He's tremendously easy-going and never appears to let anything faze him. His closest buddies are totally cool with him being gay, as is his mom.

Jordan is highly strung, a talented poet who doesn't believe he's worth much of anything. He totally wants a boyfriend but doesn't think anyone would find him attractive or interesting enough to have a relationship with him (or even sex), so he spends most of his time hanging out with his two girlfriends, whom he calls his "wives."

"The world will make you vulnerable. If you're acting like you're not, that's what you're doing. Acting."

Max and Jordan's meet-cute is at a food truck. Jordan and his mother have just resurrected his father's food truck for the first time since he died, and they're desperate to make it work, since they're in significant financial need. But neither Jordan nor his mother know the first thing about food trucks, or cooking, or food safety, and Max arrives at the counter just as Jordan's mother begins melting down. So Max, who likes to cook, volunteers to help save the truck—and, perhaps, their lives.

The last thing Jordan wants is to spend the summer with a dude bro like Max, but of course he realizes Max is far more complex and sensitive than he leads anyone to believe. As the two of them strive to take the food truck world by storm, they start enjoying each other's company more and more, and they don't let any truck-related setbacks get them down. But deep down, both boys are struggling—Max with a painful secret that confuses even him, and Jordan with his having to parent his mother, who is in a destructive spiral that could hurt them both.

"I think about the half notes of dissonance, between what I hear and what someone else hears, and those moments where the world is so cold, and when someone reaches their hand out to you. In those symphonic, connected moments where another soul joins you and feels what you feel, and you can breathe again. Like right now."

The Music of What Happens may not surprise you and it may not break new ground, but it's utterly charming and just so wonderful. I love the fact that Konigsberg avoided the typical drama when a character reveals to their peers or their family that they're gay, and instead just began from a place where it wasn't a big deal to those around them, the way life should be.

I believed in these characters. They felt authentic and dealt with real problems, and I totally believed that the two would fall for each other. I also believed in their struggles, the things about their friends and family that bothered them but they never spoke up about, and the unique perspectives each brought to their own lives and their burgeoning relationship. If there was any false note, it was Jordan's mother, who seemed to fade in to cause chaos and then fade out again.

This is the first of Konigsberg's books I've read and I absolutely loved it. I need to go back and read all of his earlier books because I love the openness of his storytelling and the complete charm of his characters. They're funny without being stand-up comedians, they're sensitive and romantic.

I hope that there are kids out there who feel encouraged by books like The Music of What Happens. The YA genre continues to be so rich with talented writers tackling important issues with humor and grace, and showing that no matter whom you love, your love story can come true. Don't we need more of that?

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