Antony John’s young adult novel Five Flavors of Dumb
(2010) follows a high school rock band and its new manager as they try to land their first paying gig. John has a background in music, including a career in classical music.
Eighteen-year-old Piper is deaf. Though she was not born deaf, she lost her hearing when she was still very young. Now in her senior year of high school, she gets by with the use of hearing aids and lip reading, which make some social interactions awkward and difficult for her. Nevertheless, the lead singer of Dumb, a rock band made up of students at her school, asks Piper to be the band’s manager.
Dumb wins the Teen Battle of the Bands in its hometown Seattle. Members of the band include the handsome and charismatic Josh Cooke, his twin brother, Will, and the resentful and angry Tash. Riding high on their recent success, the members of the band feel that their star will inevitably continue to rise. During an impromptu concert following their victory, Dumb’s amps start a fire, which only increases their profile.
Piper’s younger brother, Finn, idolizes Dumb. One day, while talking with him about the band, Piper is caught making a negative comment about Dumb’s talent. When challenged by the members of the band, Piper offers advice on how the band ought to be capitalizing on its popularity. Josh likes her advice and offers to make her the manager of the band, contingent upon Piper landing them a paying gig.
Piper begins researching successful rock bands. Her father, a major music fan, reluctantly helps her. He has always been in denial about Piper’s condition, refusing to learn sign language so that he can communicate with her better.
In addition to doing research, Piper also sets to work making practical changes to Dumb’s online presence. She sets up a social media presence and films better video and audio clips of the band. Deciding that the band needs new members to round out its sound, she recruits the classically-trained nerd Ed to play drums, and the beautiful but untalented Kallie to play rhythm guitar and act as the face for the group.
Ed assists the band in tightening up its sound and making sure that all the members are playing together as a whole. Though she cannot hear the music perfectly, Piper assists in this by keeping time, beating a large stick on the floor.
As the band improves, Piper begins looking for paid work for them. She schedules a professional recording session and books them a paid gig on a local radio show. Since the band has only played cover songs in the past, Piper also pushes them to work on original material, if only so they don’t have to pay royalties to the original artist.
However, personal issues threaten to tear the band apart. As the lead guitarist, Tash feels threatened by Kallie. She fights with her, leading Kallie to attempt to quit. Piper convinces Kallie to stay and then forces the two girls to come to an agreement by showing them examples of bands with two guitarists that have been very successful. She also gets Finn to tutor Kallie in guitar, helping her improve. In the midst of these personal problems, a local television station contacts Piper about having Dumb play a show on the air.
The band is upset that their first paid gig only netted them expenses, while the television show will pay $300. Deciding that the band must continue to ride the buzz it has generated, Piper books them for the show even though she’s worried they aren’t ready. A mysterious online mentor surfaces, directing Piper to some classic rock musicians that help her expand Dumb’s sound and address some of the challenges of being a manager.
At the television appearance, Dumb decides to change its song choice at the last minute, switching from playing inoffensive soft rock to abrasive hard rock. Though this angers the show producer, it builds band morale and helps solidify Dumb’s personality as a hard rock band. It also brings in new fans who saw the scandalous set. The plan pays off and Dumb is asked to open for a major local band.
Kallie once again underperforms at sound check, and Josh insists that she be kicked out of the band. However, Piper has come to realize that Kallie is actually Dumb’s most passionate member and so she defends her. Josh leaves the show in a huff, and Piper fills in on guitar, making Kallie the lead singer. The improvised show goes well, solidifying the future of the band with its new lineup.