Hilltop Summit K–8 School sixth graders Matthew Park, who is Korean American, and Eric Costa, who is white, have been best friends since fourth grade orchestra, where they bonded after Matt introduced Eric to comics. When they hear that their band class is going to compete in a three-day amusement park music festival, the boys are thrilled—especially when they find out that Jonah Burns, their favorite graphic novelist, is going to sign the Sandpiper Iconic Edition at nearby DefenderCon. The boys don’t seriously consider ditching the last day of the festival, however, until they receive some news: Eric’s mother has been offered a job as a pastry chef in New York, and the Costas are moving across the country at the end of the school year. But when bully Sean McKenna discovers their plans for a last hurrah—and, worse, wants in—the boys must decide how best to proceed. The treatment of themes including toxic masculinity, anti-Asian racism, and homophobia at times lacks nuance, but the colloquial kid-speak rings true. The boys’ friendship is refreshingly open and affectionate, and the narrative, including a bittersweet ending, is a resonant portrayal of the transitory nature of adolescence. Ages 8–12. Agent: Marietta B. Zacker, Gallt & Zacker Literary. (Oct.)
School Library Journal
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.—Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY
Two best pals plan the most epic adventure as their last hurrah.
Matthew and Eric have been best friends since meeting in band in fourth grade. Now in sixth grade, the boys learn that their school band will play in the Spring Music Festival at World of Amazement, the biggest amusement park in the state. But that’s not all: DefenderCon, a comics convention, will be taking place nearby at the same time and will feature special guest Jonah Burns, the author of their favorite character, Sandpiper. The boys also learn that as soon as the school year lets out, Eric will be moving across the country to New York for his pastry chef mom’s new job. Out of desperation the two plan a daring final mission: They will sneak off to DefenderCon, meet their hero, and get back to the amusement park before anyone notices they were gone. Naturally, things do not go exactly to plan. The tightly written, humorous narrative takes on serious subjects as Matt faces racism and both boys are on the receiving end of homophobic bullying due to their close friendship. It is both refreshing and reassuring to read a tale that explores a loving friendship between two boys who defy societal gender norms and are simply authentic to themselves and one another. Matt is Korean American, and Eric presents as White.
A lively romp and an honest read. (Fiction. 9-12)