Vikram’s Book Review Series

Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie

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About the Author

The author of ’Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie ’ is Jordan Sonnenblick . This is a realistic fiction young adult debut novel from the author. The book was published in 2004.


Jordan Sonnenblick was an English teacher and a graduate of New York City’s Stuyvesant High School. This book was inspired by one of his students whose brother was battling cancer. You can read more about the author at http://www.jordansonnenblick.com/

Plot

The protagonist and narrator of the book is Steven Alper, a 13 year old boy living in Pennsylvania. One day, his little brother , Jeffrey, falls off a kitchen stool resulting in a severe nose bleed, and is taken to the emergency room. Jeffrey is diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Everyone struggles in the Alper family in his/her own way. Steven struggles with school, his upcoming band concert and with his parents’ not paying attention to him. Steven’s guidance counselor, Mrs. Galley, one of the static characters, helps him get through the rough times and he shares all his feelings to her. Through her advice, Steven makes the best of his situation and grows through experiences, and finds himself able to love his family and friends in ways he hadn’t imagined.

Exposition

The story takes place in present times at the following places:


  • New Jersey, where the Alper family lives and where Steven attends school.
  • The hospital in Philapdelphia, where Jeffrey undergoes chemotherapy for his cancer.

Characters

Summary

Steven Alper lives with his mother and father, and his little brother, Jeffrey in New Jersey. He is 13 years old and is in 8th grade. He makes fairly good grades in school. He is a good drummer, and is working hard for the spring concert of the All-City Jazz Band. There are two main girls in his life, Annette and Renee. Renee is a cheerleader and Biff is her boyfriend. Steven has a crush on Renee, but she does not care much for him. On the other hand, Annette, a very smart and kind girl, likes Steven, but Steven tries to run away from Annette every time.


The story starts with Steven being sarcastic and funny. He thinks that having a little brother is the worst thing in the world. Steven has these ’Special Sticks’ signed by Carter Beauford of the Dave Mathews Band that he cherishes. One fine day, Steven finds them missing only to discover little Jeffrey using them to cook his ’Dangerous Pie’! ’Dangerous Pie’ turns out to be a zesty blend of coffee grounds, raw eggs, coke, uncooked bacon and three Matchbox racing cars. Steven goes on to say how his ’Special Sticks’ still smell funny, thanks to Jeffrey!


The rising action in this book starts with the inciting incident. On the early morning of October 7th, little Jeffy asks for ’moatmeal.’ Steven seats him on a bar stool in the kitchen, unsupervised. While Steven works on fixing the oatmeal, little Jeffy slips off the bar stool and begins to nosebleed badly. Hearing the commotion, the parents wake up and find that Jeffrey is bleeding profusely, and the bleeding does not stop. So, Mrs. Alper rushes Jeffrey to the local hospital where they diagnose him with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The reason little Jeffy bleeds so badly is because the leukemia drastically reduces the number of platelets in his blood so it was not clotting normally. This diagnosis of ”Man vs. Nature” becomes the main conflict in the book.


After being diagnosed with leukemia, Mrs. Alper quits her job as a teacher, and she and Jeffrey start leaving for several trips to Philadelphia for his chemotherapy treatments. This proves to be a very challenging time for the whole family resulting in several conflicts. Due to chemotherapy, Jeffrey has several needle marks on him, and he also starts to lose hair, becoming bald. All of this has major impact on Steven’s emotions.


Steven and his dad, Mr. Alper go through their own internal conflicts. While the mom and Jeffy are in Philly, the dad, not knowing how to deal with the news of Jeffrey combined with the fact that he needs to come up with the money to pay for Jeffrey’s chemotherapy , becomes very quiet, and does not talk to Steven at all. Steven, not withstanding his dad’s silence and the microwave dinners that he and his dad share every evening, goes through a lot of emotional struggle. Steven goes through the five stages of grief as part of his internal conflict:


1. Denial and Isolation

When Steven first hears of Jeffrey’s diagnosis, he does not want to believe it. He thinks the doctor’s may have misdiagnosed Jeffrey as part of some ’malpractice’ things where people get medicine that’s not even theirs. He wonders how the doctors could have mistaken a simple nosebleed for leukemia!


While going through those different thoughts of denial, Steven starts to stop paying attention in school, and also stops to talk to his friends. He starts to isolate himself from everyone. His only outlet seem to be Miss Palma’s journal writing assignments where in he rambles about Jeffrey and his emotions, and marks his folder as private so he does not have to share with his class.


2. Anger

Steven goes through anger when he is mad at why God would choose a little, innocent boy like Jeffrey to get this disease when there were so many other bad people in the world. He does not like it when anyone asks about Jeffrey’s condition. His anger is further compounded when his interactions with his dad are limited to T.V. dinners.


3. Bargaining

Steven then goes about bargaining with God. He thinks that if he made the right promises to God, He would magically make Jeffrey all better again. One such example: ”If You make Jeffrey better, I won’t go to this dance.” Another touching bargain is ”Take me. Don’t take Jeffy. Please Lord. Take me.”


4. Depression

Steven next plunges into sadness and loser-like attitude with ’What’s the point of this or that?” He even thinks that he will be leaving school soon to go live under an overpass. He thinks ’What’s the point of practicing for a stupid concert when his brother might not live to see it?’


5. Acceptance

During a conversation with Mrs. Galley, Steven starts off with ’What’s the point of..?’ when Mrs. Galley redirects him by asking, ”Why don’t you try working on the things you CAN change?” This becomes a starting point for Steven to accept Jeffrey’s situation and to start to come out of depression. This conversation, an important turning point in the book, is also the theme of the book. We should not dwell on the things that we can’t change, instead we should focus on the things we can!


In addition to internal conflicts, Steven also goes through external conflicts with Annette, his mom and his dad. The external conflict with his dad helps resolve the tension between the father and the son. One evening, after making a bad grade in math, Steven does not answer his mother’s phone call from Philadelphia. Worried, Mrs. Alper makes her husband rush home from an important client appointment to go and check on Steven. Mr. Alper finds Steven playing the drums in the basement and gets angry, and calls him irresponsible. Steven gets all emotional and screams at his dad, and pours out his heart about how his dad had been ignoring him ever since Jeffrey had been diagnosed. Dad is taken aback at first, then, softens and apologizes to Steven, extending his arms to hug Steven. They both talk it out and Steven gets his old, loving dad back. His dad also starts to work with him on math, and Steven starts to do better in school.


At one point, Steven goes to Philly with his mother and Jeffrey. He meets Samantha, a 14-year old girl, stricken with cancer for the third time. Steven enjoys hanging out with her and teaches her to play drums. He even gives her his ’Special Sticks,’ but she dies soon after. Steven feels very sad when he learns that Sam’s sister had not been at her side when she died, like what Sam had wished for. Sam’s advice to Steven is to be always there for his brother.


There is a lot of drama that happens on the school front too. The other students in school come to know about Jeffrey, and they are very supportive and understanding to Steven. Renee, the girl of Steven’s dreams, offers to tutor him in math, and there is this one time, she comes to his house with a cold. Steven turns her away as he does not want Jeffrey to catch an infection and get sicker. Renee gets upset and mad, not understanding why Steven closed the door on her. Later on, she comes to find out the real reason.


Steven’s drum instructor at school, Mr. Watras, is another minor character with a major impact on Steven. He constantly encourages Steven by introducing Steven to different types of music. Mr. W’s support helps Steven gets through some depressing times in the book.


In the meantime, Annette, the piano prodigy, tumbles down the stairs in her house and breaks her arm while carrying groceries. She will now not be able to play in the All-City Jazz Band concert. Instead of sulking, Annette, being the kind-hearted person she is, comes with a plan for the band to earn community service hours. The climax of the story happens when Annette,, along with Renee, tries to help Steven and his family with their medical bills by creating a benefit concert for Jeffrey. At the concert, Steven is moved to find that all his bandmates had shaved off their hair in support of Jeffrey. But then, in the middle of the concert, Jeffrey becomes sick, and Steven has to decide between staying at the concert to perform his starring solo performance OR going with Jeffrey to the hospital. This is another conflict with a quick resolution. Steven remembers Sam’s words, which is another theme of the book, and realizes at that moment, that his family is more important than anything else in the world.


The falling action of the book has many happy events. The band finds out that the proceeds from the concert total about $ 23,489.17, which happens to be a significant amount to help the Alper family! Then, at the hospital, they find out that Jeffrey has only an ear infection, nothing serious.


The story comes to a close with a resolution to the main conflict. Jeffrey’s health is improving and his hair begins to regrow during Stevens 8th grade graduation ceremony. Steven is back on track at school. He begins to like Annette and their friendship reaches a new level. Steven realizes the value of having a little brother and how much he loves him.

Vikram’s Recommendation

I highly recommend this book for its lively, upbeat, realistic and moving story . The author’s message is that life can be difficult, but we can always find a way through it. He explains this through Steven’s journey using a mixture of several emotions like humor, sarcasm, passion, love and sadness. This is a heartwarming story with realistic events that every teenager must read!