From School Library Journal
Grade 7 Up–Will, a musically gifted teen, is making his mark in a semiprofessional Chicago band. He is saddled with an abusive older brother who torments him and who, despite bottomless remorse, continues to commit stupid acts and crimes that create ongoing chaos and challenges for his family. Writing in a journal of sorts, Will tells his story in colloquial language, describing his futile crush on Amanda and the outrageous behavior of the adult band members who create a cult following as Kiss Forever, which both memorializes and satirizes the infamous band Kiss. Loving parents and understanding school and police officials try everything with Jason, and Will even gets him a job with the band, but Jason continues on his self-destructive path. The seemingly final blow happens when he has a car accident in which their younger sister sustains permanent, crippling injuries. Does Jason finally learn? No. Do Will and his parents ever wash their hands of him? No. Is there hope for Jason changing? No. Sadly, the characters are as flat as the ending, making it difficult to believe or care what happens, and the journal device works only erratically. Readers wait for some insight or resolution that clarifies the relationships and brings the challenges alive, but they aren't forthcoming.–Mary R. Hofmann, Rivera Middle School, Merced, CA
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*Starred Review* Gr. 7-10. "Just in case you've been thinking that I'm a funny, lighthearted guy, and that this is going to be a funny story, let me say one more thing: this is a sad story. Really." No disagreement here, but it's also a deftly structured, refreshingly unsentimental, and witty analysis of the resilient, complicated bonds that connect siblings. Sixteen-year-old Will has conflicted emotions about his delinquent older brother; he fears Jason's wild, frightening behavior but continues to yearn for a closer relationship. When Jason returns from a stint in juvenile hall, he accepts a job with Will's up-and-coming KISS tribute band, triggering events with consequences devastating to the entire family. Evolving alongside the tense drama is the equally fascinating story of Will's guitar-playing career, well stocked with behind-the-scenes glimpses of gigs and as articulate about the joys of music as Christopher Krovatin's Heavy Metal & You (2005). The boys' "unblemished, totally enchanting" younger sister is too angelic, but other off notes are difficult to find: the character study of a bully who "was more than just a brute" is nuanced, the pacing is skillfully modulated, and the conclusion, free of nostrums about catharsis and rehabilitation, feels touching and true. For another novel about a teen grappling with a sibling's misdeeds, look to David Klass' Dark Angel. Steer teens looking for more books with a music theme to Mike Tanner's Resurrection Blues (2005) or Blake Nelson's Rock Star Superstar (2004). Jennifer Mattson
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