The Boys in the Back Row

Levine Querido. Oct. 2020. 272p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781646140114.
Gr 5-7–Matt feels he can handle anything sixth grade dishes out so long as he has his best friend, Eric. But when Eric learns his family is moving at the end of the school year, Matt’s world is rocked. The friends cook up one last adventure that will make them school legends—or get them expelled. Their plan? Sneak out on the last day of a school band trip to meet their favorite author at a nearby comics convention. Trouble starts when classmate and frenemy Sean learns about the excursion and wants in. Matt’s first-person narration is fresh, funny, and keenly observant of all the social complexities of both the middle school and adult worlds. Jung addresses tough topics from bullying to gender stereotypes in a breezy style that doesn’t undermine the seriousness of the issues. The novel, and its title, are a loving homage to band kids in general and the back row of student musicians who play bass drums. Matt and Eric’s bond, the heart of the novel, is a touching, honest depiction of male friendship. Despite their looming separation, Matt remains hopeful about the future, citing the exploits of his favorite comic book heroine, Sandpiper: “Even if she was about to lose someone she cared about, I still wanted to find out what happened next.” Readers will feel the same.
VERDICT Witty and original—how many novels celebrate band kids? A first purchase for all middle grade collections.

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