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The Music of What Happens

Review

The Music of What Happens

In Bill Konigsberg’s THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS, Two boys are thrown together by chance and circumstance in the sweltering heat of an Arizona summer --- their last summer before senior year of high school.

Jordan's been tasked with running his late father's food truck, in a last ditch attempt to help his grieving, unstable mother pay the back mortgage. Max just doesn't want to spend his summer crunching numbers at State Farm with his mother. When Max offers to help Jordan out, Jordan can't help but say yes. His mom isn't helping, and he can't really cook. The thing is, even though they go to the same high school, Max and Jordan couldn't be more different --- on the surface, that is.

"THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS pairs the meet cute with the messiness of real life, and in Konigsberg's gentle, practiced prose, they balance each other out to create a fully realized, poignant portrait of two teenage boys."

Max is a jock, a popular kid, who spends most of his time working out and hanging with fellow "dude bros." He's Mexican from his mom's side, and he hasn't seen his father much since the divorce. Jordan is a scrawny, insecure poet, who spends most of his time doing makeovers and gossiping with his two "wives."  He's white, and he's been taking care of his mother ever since his dad died four years ago, especially through her gambling problem. THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS is told from both of their perspectives, alternating.

As the two of them spend more and more time together on the food truck, they begin to fall into a rhythm. It turns out they make a pretty good team --- and they have more in common than they think. Max actually is a pretty talented artist...and he even gets Jordan to like working out occasionally!

They also both have secrets. Jordan hasn't let on just how dire the situation is with his mother, and what a toxic presence she's become. And Max is trying to process his first and only sexual encounter, which happened shortly before he met Jordan. Just the thought of it makes him sick and terrified...but he was the bigger guy, and he could have stopped it if he really didn't want it, right?

Wrong. Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault, including men, and it doesn't matter how big your muscles are when you're being coerced or pressured. Max comes to realize this, with the help of Jordan and his mother. And Jordan ends up confronting the dangerous extent of his mother's pain.

This book works on two levels, which made it feel so realistic. Trust me, I love a straightforward fluffy gay rom-com as much as the next (and would still totally recommend this for fans of WHAT IF IT'S US and SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA)! But THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS pairs the meet cute with the messiness of real life, and in Konigsberg's gentle, practiced prose, they balance each other out to create a fully realized, poignant portrait of two teenage boys. Konigsberg tackles race, class, privilege, homophobia, toxic masculinity, toxic parents and rape culture, through the stories of two boys who have to confront the intersections of those realities every day, like so many teens. At the same time, it's a searing summer romance --- plus there's a lot of shenanigans and food truckery!

Max and Jordan's story isn't a fairytale. Konigsberg resists flattening their relationship into a wholly easy one, and they are different, after all, in some ways more meaningfully than others. But this book is also about learning to communicate. Ultimately, their story is about learning to grow and love yourself alongside loving someone else, and that is such an important truth. I loved it.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on February 28, 2019

The Music of What Happens
by Bill Konigsberg