Five Flavors of Dumb combines a high school garage band that may or may not be good, with a would-be manager who is deaf in this slice-of-life young adult novel. Our Heroine is Piper, a high school senior who accepts a challenge to find a paying gig for the band “Dumb” within a month. (A band that somehow won a Battle of the Bands competition despite having only three songs, all covers to their name and not enough practice between them.) She accepts the challenge mostly because she needs the money; it seems that her parents decided to raid her college fund so they could pay for a cochlear implant for Piper’s baby sister Grace.
Though she starts out not being very interested in the band or in rock music, Piper becomes increasingly interested in making sure the band succeeds. This is in part due to sheer stubbornness (since her parents do not approve and think she is wasting her time) but also due to the connections she forms with the band members. The band becomes a catalyst that enables Piper to break out of her shell and prove that she is capable of doing whatever it is she sets out to do.
Her initial attempts are only marginally successful, and mind-bogglingly silly. She manages to get the band a spot on a soft rock station. The problem is that Dumb’s actual genre is hard rock. The day is saved only because they were able to come up with a soft rock ballad in record time and the newest band member is cute. This gets them a lot of praise from soft rock loving mom bloggers but causes the band to be extremely annoyed with Piper. Other shenanigans include a band meltdown, romantic entanglements for both the band members and Piper, and a rock history tour.
One of the major plot points in the book is Piper’s (lack of a) relationship with her father. The father is portrayed as someone who is not able to “deal” with having a disabled child and has made very little to know effort in establishing a relationship or even knowing how to sign. Somehow, the author managed to write this without making the father seem like a mustache-twirling villain or making Piper seem like an irrational brat. We see that a lot of Piper’s interpersonal problems can be traced back to her not very good relationship with her father and the way Piper’s relationship with her family changes as she becomes more involved with the band.
I liked the book a great deal, particularly the understated but very sweet romantic subplot between Piper and a guy on her chess team. (He later becomes one of the band members. It also turns out he actually hates chess and only joined the team as an excuse to be with her.) I also really liked the way Piper’s family troubles are resolved and her interactions with the other characters.