The Music of What Happens: Book Review

The Music of What Happens
by Bill Konigsberg

★★★✰✰ 3.5 stars

Overall I enjoyed this but there were a few aspects that didn’t work for me. Maybe younger readers who are more acquainted with what I like to call the ‘woke/relevant/hashtag/love-labels‘ slang, won’t feel as disconnected from the banter or conversations occurring in this novel.
The premise might not scream originality but the romance and relationship between the main leads was one of the best thing of this novel. It was full of tentative and awkward moments between two very different people who happen—sort of by chance—to work in the same food truck.
Amidst all of the angst and laughter Konigsberg tackles some serious issues. Max, an outgoing ‘dude bro (his own words), is desperately trying to block out a night-out with an older boy. His father is a comedian of sorts who has time and again told Max to ‘man up’. So Max bottles up his feelings and decides to do his best to shut out this terrible memory. Lucky for him, he soon finds himself working for Jordan, his polar opposite. Jordan, who is considered a weird-o at school, likes to write poetry and spends time with his mother, a child-like woman recovering from a gambling addiction and still mourning the loss of her husband aka Jordan’s dad.
In spite of their collective experience of -0, Jordan and Max team up together and trough trial and error they end up coming up with some delicious recipes and clever ads for their food truck. I really enjoyed the scenes where they are bouncing ideas or when they are working side by side in the truck.
As the narrative progresses we start seeing a different side to them both. They are able to remain true to their selves (Max is still a ‘dude bro’ and Jordan is still a ‘weirdo’) but they also make a positive impact on one another. Max, inspired by Jordan’s heartfelt poetry, starts drawing again, and Jordan grows steadily more confident.
I also liked that we see just how damaging parents can be. Jordan’s mother is selfish and emotionally manipulative while Max’s father makes crass remarks and tries to impose his macho mentality on his son. While I hated these two, the narrative doesn’t make them into ‘bad people’ but rather it shows us just how pathetic and oblivious people can be.

Now, for what I didn’t quite like… (minor rant ahead)
First of all: the word ‘dude’ appears 151 times, ‘dude bro’ appears 25 times, and even ‘basic dude bro’ makes a cameo. I get it! Max is a regular dude who hangs out with two other regular dudes. Max’s two best friends are exactly what you except them to be: stereotypical straight dudes (one of them is white and incredibly stupid so he wins the prize) who for 90% of the book show 0 depth whatsoever. Their banter was painful to read, the ‘oh snap / did you bone’ jokes made me actively dislike them. I get it. They supposedly care about one another but being ‘dudes’ they have to spend all of their time taking the piss out one another.
The thing is Max doesn’t seem to like how often his two friends (I will call them Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum) resort to stupid sexist, racist, offensive jokes. Given that Max is 1) gay and 2) half-Mexican he already faces those kind of snubs from strangers so why would this otherwise smart and wonderful boy want two clowns as his best-pals? Yes, he also makes jokes at their expenses, especially towards Tweedle-dum who is white, straight and as dumb as they come, but only in response to the shit his good friends come up with.
Max complains about how shallow their conversations are…and at the end we are just supposed to believe that dum and dee actually care about Max? Mmh…I still don’t get it.

Jordan’s friends are even worse. They are the female equivalent of dee and dum (this is actually remarked by both Jordan and Max) but while dee and dum are just plain dumb, Jordan’s ‘wives’ (that’s how he calls them) are actually cruel towards Jordan.
Jordan feels that he has to act like ‘the gay best friend’ around them…and no wonders why! They go through his closet without his permission, tell strangers (such as Max, dee and dum) about Jordan’s ‘lack’ of sexual experience, speak lightly of his mother’s apparent depression and offer no real support to him. These two (I will call them Chip n’ Dale) like to use relevant terms such as ‘microagression’ without any thought or care wherever they understand this term or not. They say stupid things and then say ‘like, whatever’ and the more I think about it the more they reminded me of The Plastics from Mean Girls. Why does Jordan, with his very peculiar sense of humour and his low self-esteem would want to hang out with such inconsiderate and shallow people?
They did a ‘gay intervention’ where Chip decides to tell Jordan “You’re gay, you know”…WTF. Who does she think she is? What gives her the right to tell someone if they are gay or not?! While at one point Dale says “I wish I were a gay guy. You have all of the fun.” They constantly try to give Jordan a ‘makeover’ perhaps in an attempt to mould him into their ideal ‘gay best friend’. And worse still, they play this game where they can use their ‘card’ when they want to say something: Jordan uses his ‘queer card’, Dale uses a ‘racial minority card’ and Chip uses her ‘white privilege’ card….I did not find this funny, not one bit. Nor did it make Chip n’ Dale into funny deprecating characters.

only talk about Max and Jordan’s sexuality and in Max’s case his ethnicity. It’s a pity because when Max and Jordan are alone they actually have some genuine and thoughtful discussions about race and sexuality. Why add two sets of dumb characters to the mix? Both Max and Jordan wish they could have a more meaningful relationship with their friends and by the end I’m just supposed to believe that these horrible stupid people are actually caring? Deep?
They are horrible friends and I wish that instead of being suddenly told how caring these people actually are, we could have seen Jordan and Max cutting ties with them…
The flawed adults show some depth and are credible. This young lot? At best they are caricatures of certain types of people (dee and dum are the supreme no brains ‘dude bros’ and Chip n’ Dale are straight out of questionably bad tv series such Insatiable or worse Heathers 2018).

If you don’t mind reading the word dude one time too many, and you can move past the most unnecessary side characters in history, well I recommend this book.
It tackles difficult topics in a frank and believable manner and the relationship between the two leads is not rushed or filled by over-sentimental declarations. I actually liked that at times Jordan and Max grate on each other’s nerves and that they call out each other when they say thoughtless things, and by the end they actually have a real positive effect on one another.
But why oh why would they want to stay friends with such a bunch of…

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