cover image Playing Through the Turnaround

Playing Through the Turnaround

Mylisa Larsen. Clarion, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-3586-4549-8

In this poignant novel by Larsen (Ho Ho Homework), a middle school jazz band uses artistic activism to fight for a say in their school’s education budget spending decisions. Connor U. Eubanks Middle School eighth graders Jake, Cassie, Lily, Mac, and Nick, each wrestling with myriad interpersonal challenges, “make the mad go away” in Jazz Lab, an audition-only music elective. Playing jazz helps them communicate things they can’t find the words for, but a fiscally conservative school board member alludes to budget cuts and their beloved mentor unexpectedly quits, jeopardizing Jazz Lab. When they learn that other electives are also on the chopping block, the musicians—with the help of rebellious troublemaking classmate Quagmire—resolve to use their instruments, and their voices, to persuade the adults to listen to their needs. Through emotionally charged, alternating present-tense perspectives and expertly developed characters, the narrative eschews easy answers in this powerful portrayal of a ragtag group of students coming together to accomplish a common goal. Larsen elevates this optimistic, community-focused tale by mimicking jazz’s “back-and-forth” conversational style to parallel the listening and response that effective activism requires. Characters follow a white default. Ages 8–12. Agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary. (Oct.)