"Mylisa Larsen's debut novel has everything I look for in a classic. The story is told in short chapters through five main characters at Connor U. Eubanks Middle School. The themes are universal yet timely: The value of music education in the background of shrinking budgets. The family ties we have to people who are doing harm, and how we feel when we are powerless to stand against it or even talk about it. All of this would be enough for a Middle Readers novel. What takes this book to the next level is Ms. Larsen's development of the unexpected climax and how all the characters are affected. The main characters are 8th graders in a music class called Jazz Lab with their teacher Mr Lewis. Mr Lewis only teaches Jazz at the High School, but comes to the middle school twice a week for Jazz Lab. For Cassie, the saxaphonist, her instrument helps her say things that "she can't find words for" and "because, sometimes, Cassie needs to scream." Cassie's relationships with the other characters goes back years, and they end up intertwining outside school in the real world in ways that cannot be ignored. The characters were so real they brought me to tears. I am torn between thinking of this as a young adult novel with middle school characters or a middle level novel with the pacing, dialogue, and suspense of a classic. Just my own opinion, I would rather read Playing Through the Turnaround than Catcher in the Rye. Especially if I was the age of the characters in the novel. Highest praise for this book." - Carol Mohr (March 20, 2022)— Carol Mohr
In a timely, insightful story told with sparkling wit and heart, young musicians protesting plans for budget cuts navigate miscalculations, indifferent adults, and unexpected loss as they discover the power of speaking out and the value of listening.
“A brave and dazzling debut, this timely novel is a blueprint for hope.”—Katherine Applegate, Newbery Medalist and best-selling author of The One and Only Ivan
“Keen and clear and fiercely funny.”—Linda Sue Park, Newbery Medalist and best-selling author of A Long Walk to Water
“Brilliant, sharp, comic, poignant, and true.”— Gary D. Schmidt, two-time Newbery Honor-winning author of The Wednesday Wars
“A splendid novel filled with honesty and heart.”—Karina Yan Glaser, best-selling author of the Vanderbeekers series.
Fifth period is hands down the best time of day in Connor U. Eubanks Middle School, because that’s when Mr. Lewis teaches Jazz Lab. So his students are devastated when their beloved teacher quits abruptly. Once they make a connection between budget cuts and Mr. Lewis’s disappearance, they hatch a plan: stop the cuts, save their class.
Soon, they become an unlikely band of crusaders, and their quest quickly snowballs into something much bigger—a movement involving the whole middle school. But the adults in charge seem determined to ignore their every protest. How can the kids make themselves heard?
“In an effort to get grown-ups to listen to them, middle schoolers do something extraordinary. So does Larsen, in her debut—by introducing characters so distinct and alive that each sparkles and yet becomes much more as they together tackle the challenging task of asserting their right to a say in their own educations. A magnificent medley of cogent themes and memorable moments.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)