So Punk Rock by Micol Ostow, Art by David Ostow
IQ "Instead, real life happens in drips and drabs. It gets portioned out in metered bites, some of which take more digesting than others. It happens frame by frame. Sometimes you get to linger, to soak in the surroundings. Some panels are more about ambiance than action, while others are pure cliff hangers. Real life is more like a graphic novel that way." Ari pg. 241-242
So Punk Rock is real life in graphic novel form! This novel is funny and the art is awesome and really adds to the hilarity of the novel. Ari Abramson wants to start an indie rock band, because he loves indie music and he wants to do something fun for once, that he wants to do, not what his parents want him to do. Ari's parents want him to go to Brandeis. They are constantly stressing him about his grades, forcing him to constantly work on improving his SAT scores (he's a junior but he takes practice tests, is enrolled in a test prep course and takes the actual SAT) and take as many Honors classes as he can. Ari attends Leo R. Gittleman Jewish Day School and he persuades his best friend Jonas to be bassist (and much to Ari's chagrin lead singer), Yossi Gluck to be the drummer and Reena Gluck to be back up vocals. Ari is lead guitarist. However, all four of them live in the suburbs and they don't really have a lot of credibility when it comes to be hard-core rockers. That and none of them (except Ari) know a whole lot about how to play rock music (or even an instrument in some cases). The result is a hilarious, bumpy, musical gig.
I really liked the characters in this novel. Ari is the main character and his narration is humorous and honest. He makes fun of himself with ease and sees the hypocrisy/absurdity of others quite well which really engages the reader. Ari only asks Jonas to be in the band because Jonas is popular with the ladies and will help them attract fans. Jonas has never played the bass before and he demands to be lead vocalist, never mind the fact that he can't really sing. Jonas is a decent friend, but he can be a real jerk. He's the alpha male and Ari's the beta male and their friendship is a bit complex (Jonas is clueless to the resentment Ari has towards him sometimes). Yossi Gluck is a loner and "High Conservative" (which means that he keeps kosher and only eats in Rabbi-approved restaurants and on the Sabbath he doesn't drive, use electricity or anything else that involves work). Yossi's family has a ton of money and he owns a set of drums (his parents wanted him to learn how to play klezmar music, which is a Jewish style of music) so Ari thinks he's a natural for being the drummer. Although Yossi's conservatism proves to be a problem on more than one occasion. He grows as a character and it's nice watching his transformation from a very quiet, not really into indie music, reluctant, religious kid to a guy who is able to stand up for himself, stand up to his friends, appreciate the indie culture and still maintain his faith. Major props to him for sticking to his principles and he makes they most interesting friends in the most random of places. The guys don't want Yossi's sister to be in the band at first, but Yossi's parents won't let Yossi join the band unless his sister is also allowed to participate. They want both Yossi and Reena to get out their shells and they see the band as the perfect way to do it (they even allow the band to practice in their racquetball court aka the "rocking-ball court"). Reena proves to able to sing incredibly well and she soon becomes a welcome addition to the band and The Tribe is formed. I loved thier tagline "Not your Rabbi's music." All the characters are developed nicely, including the minor characters who only make brief appearances such as Sari (Ari's love interest), Ben (Ari's cute but annoying little brother), Larafromcamp (aka Lara, Jonas' girlfriend from Hebrew camp) and Ari's parents. The romances are cute and watching Ari go from being a nobody and not knowing who he is, to becoming a somebody and learning who he is through an indie rock band makes for an engrossing coming of age story.
Now I don't listen to rock music, so all the rock band mentions were completely lost on me (I recognized a few names of artists that Ari's friend, Jonas listens to. Needless to say, Ari looks down on Jonas' music taste, since Jonas likes whatever is on the Top 40 charts). As I write this review, I'm listening to Lou Reed to help me get into the mood of the book :) I also loved learning about Jewish culture. The book doesn't provide a too-detailed portrait of Jewish day school and I would have liked to learn a little more about it, but the bits and pieces I read about were interesting. I think it would be difficult to only eat kosher (Jewish dietary laws) foods. It made me laugh at how the school cafeteria only serves kosher food so there is an underground food service (for example if you know the right person you may be able to get a slice of pizza, for a price). Jewish slang and humor was another great part of So Punk Rock. They all use the term "kosher" which is slang for cool. I laughed at the self-decrepitating humor Ari uses and I think the book does a good job of knocking down stereotypes of Judaisim and the Hebrew people.
The cartoons are great and very much add to the humor and understanding of the novel. David Micol did an excellent job. Micol Ostow did a great job writing in a boy's point of view, it doesn't feel fake or forced, but very genuine and realistic. I highly recommend this book to Jews and non-Jews alike. It's So Punk Rock and you will laugh as you follow the characters on their musical journey navigating the perks and trials of being a Jewish, suburban kid in today's world. I received a delightful intro into the world of Jewish Day school and indie music and it's one I won't forget. 8th grade and up. Very kosher :D