________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 3. . . .September 17, 2010


Beat the Band.

Don Calame.
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (Distributed in Canada by Random House Canada), 2010.
390 pp., hardcover, $20.00.
ISBN 978-0-7636-4633-2.

Subject Headings:
Popularity -Fiction.
High schools -Fiction.
Roes groups -Fiction .

Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

***1/2 /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



“This is it, dawgs,” I say. “From boys to man. Tenth grade is the year we tag all the bases. First, second, third, and then we slide into home.”

“I'd just be happy to step into the batter's box again,” Sean says.

I shoot him a gimme-a-break look. “Don't be so mopey, dude. Tianna was just a practice swing. Now you're primed to aim for the fences.

Readers first met best friends Matt Gratton, Sean Hance and Cooper Redmond in Swim the Fly, but this time it's Coop, not Matt, who is narrating the story. While the previous novel had seen both Matt and Sean finding girlfriends, as the boys enter grade 10 at Lower Rockville High, Coop has decided that this will be the year that, sexually speaking, the trio (but, especially him) will round the bases.

     Life, in the form of Mrs. Turres, the boys' Health teacher, tosses Coop a knuckleball when he is teamed up with Helen Harriwick to present the topic of contraception to the class. While Coop had hoped that the pairing lottery would see him partnered with one of the Phenomenal Four, Prudence Nash, Kelly West, Bronte Hastings and Gina Lagotta, instead Coop, a D student, finds himself “burdened” with an A student partner, but one who had become a social pariah in grade 8 when she was tagged with the nickname Hot Dog Helen. Though readers briefly encountered Helen in Swim the Fly, no explanation was provided for her nickname, though its possible sexual connotations were implied.

      Immediately, the egocentric Coop fears that his being associated with Hot Dog Helen in any way will drastically reduce his chances of even getting to first base with a girl, a fear that is confirmed in his mind when some classmates begin referring to him as Corn Dog. Coop's numerous attempts to change the partnering just make Mrs. Turres more adamant that the pairing will continue to work together.

      When Coop sees a notice for a school Battle of the Bands competition to take place in December, he believes he has found a way to more than compensate for his being paired with Hot Dog Helen. “Here is my miracle. Win the battle of the bands and the Hot Dog Helen taint will be obliterated by my rock-and-roll awesomeness. And who gets to tag more bases than a rock god. No one.”

      However, Coop faces two large problems. Firstly, his band, Arnold Murphy's Bologna Dare, exists in name only, a fact that had been made clear by Matt in Swim the Fly. Secondly, and more immediately, a demo disk is due almost immediately, and without Matt or Sean's knowledge but with the help of his father, a former rock-and-roll band member in his youth, Coop downloads some songs from an obscure Canadian group Coop found on the Internet.

      Author Calame adds one more piece to Coop's seemingly eventual downfall when Prudence Nash, one of the Phenomenal Four and “the third hottest girl in the school,” volunteers to help Coop permanently rid the school of Hot Dog Harriet. All that is required of Coop is that he obtain Harriet's locker combination and assist the Phenomenal Four in filling in the necessary personal details on “Helen's” application for admission to Our Lady of Mercy school.

      Helen does eventually share with Coop the grade eight origins of her nickname, an explanation that demonstrates how enduring teenage girls' jealousies can be. Readers can, of course, correctly anticipate that Coop's feelings about Helen will eventually change, but his continuing self-centredness prevents him from publicly acting on them until the book's climax which occurs during the Battle of the Bands competition.

      Even longer than Swim the Fly, Beat the Band is still a fast, laugh-out-loud read as the short, reader-engaging chapters just fly by. Coop, despite being egocentrism personified, is still a likeable character, and his world of adolescent sexual fantasies is both funny and most believable.

      Adolescent males who have read Swim the Fly will enjoy seeing Matt from someone else's perspective and will undoubtedly wonder if the on-line game playing Sean will get to star in Calame’s next book.

Highly Recommended.

Dave Jenkinson, CM‘s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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