Lemonade Mouth by Mark Peter Hughes – Review

Book Jacket:

Poets. Geniuses. Revolutionaries.

The members of the legendary band Lemonade Mouth have been called all of these things. But until now, nobody’s known the inside story of how this powerhouse band came to be. How five outcasts in Opoquonsett High School’s freshman class found each other, found the music, and went on to change both rock and roll and high school as we know it. Wen, Stella, Charlie, Olivia, and Mo take us back to that fateful detention where a dentist’s jingle, a teacher’s coughing fit, and a beat-up ukelele gave birth to Rhode Island’s most influential band. Told in each of their five voices and compiled by Opoquonsett’s “scene queen,” freshman Naomi Fishmeier, this anthology is their definitive history.

You can read an excerpt here.


So yes, I did first hear of this book because of the Disney Channel TV movie/musical adaptation – and then I heard that the book was being re-released in a “Disney appropriate” manner (i.e. sanitized and sparkling clean for the MG crowd) as a tie in with the TV movie, so I just had to go back and read the original YA version.

So what is the real Lemonade Mouth, sans the pop-y pep and wholesome sheen? As it turns out, an adolescent tale of facing down insecurities that is a heck of a lot of fun. Yes, at its heart this story does have that Disney-esque core of “Be True To Yourself” but this story is so much more gloriously offbeat than you’d expect. Hughes has created absolutely authentic teen awkwardness and he NAILS the many shapes and forms that teen attraction can take – this story downright seethes with teenage hormones run amok, and it’s hilariously and sometimes painfully spot-on.

Of the fab five – three girls and two boys – each has a distinct voice and situation, and their various internal struggles ring absolutely true. I got them, each and every one of them – from Mo, the Indian girl desperately trying to meet her parent’s sky high expectations; to Charlie, a boy whose insecurities manifest as the voice of his dead twin brother, an Id-like creation that follows him around, giving unasked for advice; to Olivia, a girl so internalized she’s already a crazy cat lady, this story is so more more original and interesting in its fully realized form. I’m kind of hoping someone makes an independent film out of this book a few years down the line, something a little less Disney and more Napoleon Dynamite, because it would be hilarious fun.

Now I grant you that a story of five outsiders who come together to form a rock band isn’t earth shatteringly original, but Hughes flexes the trope with style. I completely bought the outsider status of the lead characters – from the different shapes, sizes, and styles of the fab five, to each character’s particular hang-ups and sensitivities, Hughes gives us five distinct teens that make for a unique blend. And while he does dance close to a stereotype every now and then (i.e. Mo’s overachieving Indian family), he manages to never fall into archetypes (Mo may have some familiar aspects, but she is still very much her own character). I’ve seen some complaints about how the narrative switches back and forth between all five points of view (plus a few more thrown in from time to time), but I really enjoyed it – it kept things lively and interesting, and I had no problem keeping up. As for the differences between the book and the movie, let me put it this way: what in the Disney Channel version is your standard teen pop configuration, in the book is a band that rocks a ukulele, accordion, samba rhythms, and Janis Joplin style vocals. That pretty much tells you everything you need to know about how the two compare.

Still, if you’re a fan of the TV movie, the movie’s big plot points are all straight from the book – the lemonade machine, the music room in the basement, the anarchy inducing debut and big final competition – but unsurprisingly the book blows the movie away in terms of relationships, romances, and just all around originality.

In the end, Lemonade Mouth is a fun, heartwarming, and offbeat tale of five kids banding together (if you’ll excuse the pun), and becoming a family, helping each other deal with the pull of attractions, the complications of family life, and the embarrassments of teenage-dom; and together they become more than the sum of their parts. Hughes gives us high school in all its awkward glory, and it makes for a highly entertaining read. Definitely go for the YA version of this book – you won’t want to miss any of the fun.

Byrt Grade: A-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Publishers Weekly says:

A rock-n-roll The Breakfast Club for the literary set, Hughes’s (I Am the Wallpaper) novel combines teen romance, high school politics and family issues in an enjoyable romp that touches on wide-ranging themes, from music-making to corporate muckraking.

The Third Place says:

Hughes does an excellent job of capturing the high school experience: the injustice of the social pyramid, the little things that mean so much and the political geography of the cafeteria. His characters are warm and each one speaks with a different enough voice to be believable. My one complaint about the book is that I now cannot stop thinking about how Lemonade Mouth would actually sound. If you are a fan of subversion, lemon-flavored slush, ukuleles, accordions, Tito Puente and the DIY music scene, check out this book.

Charlotte’s Library says:

…an engaging, fast paced and ultimately (oh gosh so many words are overused) triumphant? empowering? comforting? story. The author set himself a challenge–take five kids on the periphery of high school, and not only make them into a convincing band (in the music sense), but keep them from becoming stereotypes of the various sub-species of nerdy outsider…It’s not the most original plot, but Hughes writes enough into each character to make them interesting people, and each has a distinctive voice.