Contemporary

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour

When a colleague and I came across this title in a catalog, I think she hated the cover as much as I loved it. (I’m talking about the hardcover, by the way, which is different from the paperback, which I actually like even more) I was immediately interested, and used it in promotions. I recommended it to my sister, who was going through a phase where she wanted YA books on road trips. I knew it’s a book I’d enjoy, and I’ve flipped through it a few times, but until the paperback came out I haven’t actually sat down and read the whole thing. And now I wonder why.

The Disenchantments is amazing. The title refers to a high school riot grrrl band – Bev, and sisters Meg and Alexa – that is possibly the worst band in the world, according to the girls’ best friend Colby. Colby’s known Bev all of his life, and they had made a pact to put aside college for a year after graduation to travel around Europe. But as The Disenchantments pack to go on tour, with Colby as their companion and roadie, Bev tells him that she’s going to college after all. Since he hadn’t planned for college or work, the only thing Colby was sure of was seeing the tour through – but what should he do when it’s over?

I usually like books that revolve around music, but The Disenchantments quickly became one of my favourites from the first mention of Sleater-Kinney, the band that inspired Bev to start her own. As if naming my favourite band from high school isn’t enough, the song she listened to over and over is “Modern Girl”. It felt like – this girl understood. Even though I was reading about Bev from Colby’s point of view, I knew right then that I loved her as much as he did, and that I would have loved to have met her, or someone like her, in high school. I guess I was reacting to this book in a very personal way, and that’s how this book felt to me. Personal. Like Stephanie Kuehnert’s I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone (the title itself a Sleater-Kinney reference!) and Levithan and Cohn’s Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (no SK here, but definitely reminiscent of my younger days). The rest of the music is awesome, too – from Joan Jett to Bikini Kill to Diana Ross and the Supremes, this book gives tribute to many of my favourites, and made me listen more closely to the ones that weren’t (like Heart).

I also love the characters – Bev isn’t the only one I would have liked as friends in school. Colby is sweet, and I like that he notices the moments of subtle sexism that the girls encounter, and stands up against it when needed. I like that even though he’s part of the gang because he’s Bev’s childhood friend, and is deeply in love with her, he also clearly cares for Alexa and Meg, and is an equally good friend to them. Basically I like having a male character that exists as more than the “romantic partner” – which weirdly enough is kind of rare in the books I’ve read. I like Meg and Alexa – their closeness, their dedication to spend this one last summer together before they would live separately (Meg was going off to college, while Alexa was going on senior year in high school). I love that while the book has a male POV and we only know the girls from what Colby sees, hears, and thinks, and the main story is about Colby’s feelings for Bev, each of The Disenchantments are fully fleshed out, with their own story and growth. And the amazing thing is, even the characters they meet on the road, from the bartend who believes that everyone should have their own preferred beer (and helps them find it based on their book/film/music/fashion preference), to the Supremes fan who works in a record store for the employee discounts (kinda like why I’m a bookseller, ha), to Jasper, the tattoo artist… each of these characters are interesting, and people I would have loved to read more about.

In the end, The Disenchantments is a road trip story that isn’t really about where the characters are, or where they’re going. It’s a story of friendship, and how the trip is their last big adventure together before going off their separate ways, as one stage of their lives reaches its end, and a new one looms ahead. It’s a story about learning to be selfish enough to do what’s best for oneself, about self-discovery – I liked the line on the cover, “maybe we always were the people we imagined ourselves to be” – and in Colby’s case, discovering who he is when he isn’t with Bev. It’s about plans, and how sometimes things won’t work out, and maybe it’s for the best. I just really love this book, okay? There. That’s it. The end.

~ originally posted on Elsewhere

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