By Ekta R. Garg
March 30, 2016
Genre: Middle grade fiction
Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars
When a teen starts making loud noises in patterns—what he calls “music”—his parents send him to a school for young people with disabilities. He meets others who also enjoy his new hobby, and the teens set out to convince the world that music isn’t an affliction to be feared. Authors Claire and Monte Montgomery take this seemingly lightweight premise and give it heft and a fantastic sense of humor in the fun middle grade book Melvin Invents Music.
It’s the year 3200 B.C., and Melvin lives in the small fishing town of Grimstad (on the coast, assert the authors, of modern-day Finland.) From the time he’s born to Lars and Sonya, Melvin can’t stop observing noises and how they work together. He drops, hits, and rubs things for hours on end in utter fascination of the sounds produced. His parents, fearful for their son’s sanity (and their own,) decide not to have any more children.
By the time he’s 16, though, Melvin’s “problem” becomes too much to bear. His parents consult with the Hegoumen, Grimstad’s spiritual leader, for guidance. After a counseling session, the Hegoumen recommends that Melvin be sent to the Shivrkalt Home for Hopelessly Eccentric Youth. By coincidence—or maybe not—the home is run by the Hegoumen’s brother, Gustav.
Lars and Sonya send Melvin to the facility. At first Melvin can’t stand his new home—the food is terrible, none of the other teens like him, and Gustav runs the place with an iron fist. But soon enough Melvin figures out that the other teens have the same problem he does. They all hear rhythms in their heads.
They all want to make music.
Melvin convinces his new friends to embrace their music instead of being ashamed of it, and soon enough he leads a revolution. The students, along with cook and cleaning woman Olga, join forces and break out of the home. They go back to their hometowns and start spreading the joy of music. Rebuffed by his clientele, Gustav shows up and convinces Melvin that he and his friends (who have formed a band) need to tour the world. He’ll be their manager, he says, and take care of all the details.
Thus begins a new phase in Melvin’s life: that of a celebrity. He and the band start with untarnished enthusiasm, but soon infighting and Melvin’s ego force the group apart. Melvin will need to decide whether inventing music in the first place was such a good idea, what his art ultimately means to him, and how he’s going to get out of the entire mess he’s created.
Authors Claire and Monte Montgomery treat Melvin and his challenges with an irreverence that will make target readers and their parents laugh aloud in several places. The authors balance modern-day cultural references with life in an ancient fishing village with ease; even Justin Bieber gets a mention. The narration never gets snarky or sarcastic, choosing instead to keep the jokes rolling right along and moving into and out of the more serious moments without pause. In some stories this would create a railroading effect. Here the perfect balance will make readers grin from start to finish.
Melvin and his cohorts deal with everything from bullying and being shunned to widespread acceptance and even the pitfalls of fame. Claire and Monte Montgomery give the trappings of celebrity-hood a light touch but manage to include it all, including substance abuse. Unlike the fluidity of other parts of the story, the consequences of bad choices come through loud and clear. Treating your friends badly and relying on a substance to solve problems only brings about disaster. And yet even the disaster gets treated with just enough humor for kids to absorb the lesson without getting scared by its details.
Parents can let their middle grade readers devour the book without reservation, and I highly recommend they let them do so. Readers should definitely Bookmark Melvin Invents Music.
(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)