After almost dying with embarrassment alongside one of the characters in the first chapter of Lemonade Mouth, by Mark Peter Hughes (ya 2007, 352 pp), I almost thought I would not be able to read this book. I'm not going to go into details, but I just hope it doesn't happen to my dear boys. But I kept on reading, and basically kept on reading until I was done (despite my dear boys), partly because it was my Duty (see below), but more because it's an engaging, fast paced and ultimately (oh gosh so many words are overused) triumphant? empowering? comforting? story. The author set himself a challenge--take five kids on the periphery of high school, and not only make them into a convincing band (in the music sense), but keep them from becoming stereotypes of the various sub-species of nerdy outsider. He tells their story in first person snips, which is not always my favorite narrative style, but which worked here to keep my interest (but when, I wonder, will I read a ya book that is not in the first person???). Because there are 2 male and 3 female points of view, this book should appeal to both genders.
You can "meet the freaks" at the Lemonade Mouth website here, and yes, that is what their own creator calls them. We meet the five freaks at the beginning of their freshman year. They are kids of varying backgrounds and interests, brought together in detention where the music teacher tells them they are destined for musical greatness (well not exactly, but that's the idea). So they form a band called Lemonade Mouth, become friends, achieve a measure of fame and status, and are a heck of a lot happier at the end than they are at the beginning (which is why it's comforting). It's not the most original plot, but Hughes writes enough into each character to make them interesting people, and each has a distinctive voice. Hormones make their appearance (this is ya after all), but are nicely contained as part of the whole rather than the main point. Sub-plots also add interest--both in the lives of the kids, and when, as a group, they take on a battle against the corporate homogenization of American high schools, and bring back the lemonade machine that Big Soda had muscled out.
When my kids start high school, I'm going to tell them to look on the edges, where the most interesting and intelligent people, like the kids in this book, are likely to be found. And I'm going to encourage them to take action when there are issues they believe in. And if this book is still around (7 more years), I might well leave it around the house for them to find (anticipating that they will not be as amenable to my suggestions as they are now).
A minor note: I like that this book was set in Rhode Island, where I live. And Del's Lemonade is just as much a local fixture as the "Mel's" in the book. It is too sweet for my taste, but the lines are long at the stands in summer.
I read Lemonade Mouth because it was one of around 100 so far that have been nominated for the YA Cybils award. Nominations are still open in all categories.