Book Review: The Bad Decisions Playlist by Michael Rubens
Sixteen-year-old Austin is always messing up and then joking his way out of tough spots. The sudden appearance of his allegedly dead father, who happens to be the very-much-alive rock star Shane Tyler, stops him cold. Austin—a talented musician himself—is sucked into his newfound father’s alluring music-biz orbit, pulling his true love, Josephine, along with him. None of Austin’s previous bad decisions, resulting in broken instruments, broken hearts, and broken dreams, can top this one. Witty, audacious, and taking adolescence to the max, Austin is dragged kicking and screaming toward adulthood in this hilarious, heart-wrenching YA novel.
I gravitated to this because I loved the cover. Then I read the summary and knew I wouldn’t want to overlook this title. As an aging punk whose whole entire teenage life revolved around music—and falling hard for musician boys who made questionable choices—this novel spoke to me (though, once again, it was jarring for me to relate to the teenage characters but realize I’m older than both of the parents in this book—an all-too-common occurrence these days).
Set just outside of Minneapolis in Edina, 16-year-old Austin lives with his mother, who works in a nail salon. Her stodgy boyfriend Rick (who Austin at one point refers to as “the world’s least interesting man”) is often around, but Austin tries to just steer clear of him. Austin’s mom told him his dad died before he was born… but as the blurb up there tells you, that’s not true. Austin is a great character. He’s funny and self-deprecating with a history of doing stupid stuff to entertain girls. He’s a talented musician with grand dreams of moving to NYC after high school to become a famous singer-songwriter. But his friend Devon calls him Half-Song because Austin can never finish writing anything. He also is terrified of performing in front of people. He’s supposed to be spending the summer focusing on attending summer school, getting math tutoring, and working to not be sent to military school. Instead, he falls hard for his tutor, Josephine, gets in epic fights with his mother, becomes friends and bandmates with his bully, meets his not-dead (and very famous) father, and finally gets on the stage in front of people.
Part of the real joy of this book was seeing how events unfolded, so I won’t tell you too many plot details. The story wasn’t predictable—or when it was, I was roped in enough to believe it wouldn’t take that turn or play out that way. Austin is a great character who experiences a lot of wonderful things in this story (when he’s not busy falling down hills and nearly being killed by a lawnmower, or breaking expensive instruments, or getting in trouble for stealing a car) and even though I KNOW he makes bad decisions, and that people in his life make bad decisions, I thought maybe they’d turn it around. His relationship with Josephine is fantastic. She’s smart, funny, and his total opposite, but they connect through music and when she’s able to see past Austin’s reputation. She’s in his life at just the right moment, as he grapples with the reality of his father and is able to be as involved in making music as he’s always wanted to be. Austin’s journey isn’t an easy one to observe. I spent a fair amount of time wincing and lecturing him in my head. The ending of the book isn’t tidy or necessarily completely happy, but it is satisfying. You know me—I’ll take a realistic ending over a “happy” ending any time. A fun, smart, at times heartbreaking read about families, love, choices, consequences, and the power of music.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
SLJ Blog Network