Queer Book Corner – Drum Roll, Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow
By Eti Berland
I’ve never wanted to go to camp.
As a shy introvert who appreciated the comforts of home, the prospect of living in the woods at the mercy of the elements, insects, & other kids filled me with dread. But after reading Drum Roll, Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow, I think I may have to reevaluate my life choices. I wish I could have experienced a magical, transformative summer that helped me find my voice, like Melly does.
It may be too late for me to go to camp and experience that kind of self discovery, but I can ensure that young people have access to this wonderful queer middle grade novel that is the perfect summer read. It’s a book I wish I could have read as a kid — and I’m sure I’m not alone in that feeling. And honestly, it’s never too late to discover a book that helps you see yourself.
Melly is excited to attend Camp Rockaway with her best friend, Olivia.
(This seems like the place to mention that this book is littered with many musical puns and I’m here for all the puns.) Melly plays the drums and Olivia plays the bass and they anticipate endless rocking out together as they hone their musical skills. But Melly’s parents throw a wrench into her plans when they tell her they are getting a divorce right as she’s preparing to leave for camp. Melly is confused and devastated by this news, trying to process her feelings of betrayal and grief in the midst of acclimating to camp life.
When Melly and Olivia are assigned to different bands, she’s disappointed but gets the opportunity to grow on her own. She forms an instant connection with one of her bandmates, Adeline, who helps her face her fear of diving, introduces her to new music, and listens to Melly’s frustrations about her parents.
“Then [Adeline] said, ‘I’m sorry, Melly.’ Somehow it was exactly what I needed to hear. It didn’t magically fix everything, and yet, by acknowledging that things weren’t okay, it made me feel a little bit better” (Bigelow, p. 108).
Adeline exudes confidence and bravery, complete with her “this machine eats fascists” sticker on her guitar case, her fierce voice and willingness to take emotional risks. Spending time with Adeline makes Melly see herself in new ways and find a way to tell her parents what she really feels through the power of song. While Melly grows closer to Adeline, her friendship with Olivia is strained by Oliva’s crush on her bandmate, Noel, abandoning her best friend when Melly needed her the most. Bigelow deftly explores the tug and pull of middle school friendships, complete with miscommunications, mistakes, drama, and confessions.
Melly and Adeline’s blossoming friendship is beautiful and sweet, conveyed in Bigelow’s evocative and vivid prose. Bigelow understands how young people experience these first pangs of romance and get feelings for each other, bringing us inside Melly’s head on her journey.
As Melly ruminates, “A current passed from her [Adeline’s] fingers into me…. As it went, it grew – as if a single honeybee had flown in and multiplied into a swarm. My heart was a hive. It hummed” (Bigelow, p. 124).
The theme of the using drums – the extension of one’s heart – to express your true self is sprinkled throughout the story. Melly’s process to discover “what happens when you put your heart outside your body, where everyone can hear it,” to share how she feels, is one that young people are sure to appreciate and see themselves in (Bigelow, p. 92). Adeline literally sings a song in front of everyone about her feelings for Melly and the ways she needs to stand up for their friendship (Bigelow, p. 253).
DWhen Adeline kisses her during a field trip on the HydroBlaster ride, Melly finally realizes how she feels for Adeline. I loved the scene where Melly tells Olivia about her kiss with Adeline and gets instant acceptance and they begin to repair the distance between them. This kind of positive communication, in turn, helps Melly open up more to Adeline. Later, Melly and Adeline have a conversation about consent that made my heart sing. These conversations needs to happen more in children’s books where young people are offered rehearsals for their own life experiences, as well as a catalysts for important conversations with people who care about them.
In pitch perfect prose, Drum Roll, Please shows the wonder and angst of being a tween with respect and authenticity.
The challenges Melly faces are relatable and real; emotions run high when you’re a tween and those feelings are depicted as valid and important. I absolutely love Bigelow’s way with words, using vivid imagery to show how Melly breaks out of her shell. This book is also unabashedly feminist with fantastic characters like Toni and Shauna calling out the patriarchy. It is a sweet, humorous, and thought-provoking story about a magical time in young people’s lives. Whether you’ve been a hardcore camper or never been, by reading Drum Roll, Please, you can return to a summer of possibility and find your own way to rock.
Drum Roll, Please is now out on paperback, released on May 14, 2019!
You can find your local independent bookstore here: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780062791146
If you’re seeking books similar to Drum Roll, Please, check out these fantastic middle grade books!
- The Lumberjanes by by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooklyn A. Allen and Noelle Stevenson
- Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee
- Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake
- Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender
- Drama by Raina Telgemeier
- Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
- All Summer Long by Hope Larson