by Erin Dionne
First sentence: “Dad, seriously.”
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Elsie is a (french) horn player. First and foremost, before absolutely everything else. She is driven to play, and even though she’s only 13 years old, she’s ambitious. As a freshman in high school, she is determined to get into an elite music program, Shining Birches, which is something usually reserved for upper classmen. The only hitch is that she needs an extra music group, and because of her father’s gig in Austria (life is tough), she missed out in applying for the Boston Youth Symphony. Which means she’s stuck with (horror of all horrors) marching band.
I picked this up for C for Christmas because she’s basically fallen into band. She never wanted to be in band, but the way our middle school is, band is really one of the better options. That, and the teacher is fantastic. Much like Elsie, C went into band with a bad attitude, and is actually having a surprisingly good time.
Elsie, however, was an incredibly tough character to enjoy. She’s self-centered, snobbish, and competitive. She couldn’t understand why people asked for her opinion and then got offended when she gave it to them. And while she was competitive with her classmates, the person she was always at odds with was her father, who was also a french horn player.
On the one hand, all these things that grated on me came honestly to the character, and she really did go through a growth arc over the course of the book. Yes, it did get all wrapped up in a nice little bow, but not in the way you would expect given the beginning of the novel, which was nice. And, thankfully, there were interesting side characters that helped soften Elsie’s abrasiveness.
Even though Elsie was one tough pill to swallow, it was a fun little book. Dionne really got the value of marching band (not to mention its inherent coolness), and anyone who’s ever marched will find themselves nodding in agreement.
And that makes an already good book that much better. (Granted: I marched, so I may be a bit biased, here.)