Elsie has goals, and they certainly don't involve marching band or the mellophone. Unfortunately, if Elsie is going to reach the exclusive musical career goals, starting with admittance to a prestigious summer music camp, marching band is required. This is not serious music, so Elsie just finds it a tedious distraction, until she realizes how difficult it actually can be. This book explores Elsie's arrogance and how to work with a team, as well as the idea that sometimes the things you think you want aren't always the things you need most.
I am a fan of the voice in Erin Dionne's books - she does humorous humiliation like no one else. She creates some distinctive characters, even in people who are essentially sidekicks.
My one complaint, which may be tied to my bias as a gifted education specialist, and which I also found to be true in Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet - is the inauthenticity of the gifted main character. The intensity and drive are present, but the profound sensitivity and awareness are missing. It's certainly possible to have a character who is this musically gifted and socially clueless, but Elsie is a very slow learner despite repeated relationship errors, which just doesn't ring true.
There are many things to enjoy about this book - anyone who's ever dealt with a marching band plume will find the descriptive marching band details delightfully truthful. The ambitious intensity within the family and as a conflict between friends is really intriguing. The adults are realistically drawn with actual flaws, and the pacing is quick, especially with a plot so centered on self-awareness of a single character.
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