Title: Beat The Band
Author: Don Calame
Author’s Website: www.doncalame.com
My Age Recommendation: 14+
Publisher: Templar Publishing
Publication Date: February 2012
Pages: 432
Rating: 3/5

In this hilarious sequel to Swim the Fly, told from Coop’s point of view, it’s the beginning of the school year, and the tenth-grade health class must work in pairs on semester-long projects. Matt and Sean get partnered up (the jerks), but Coop is matched with the infamous “Hot Dog” Helen for a presentation on safe sex. Everybody’s laughing, except for Coop, who’s convinced that the only way to escape this social death sentence is to win “The Battle of the Bands” with their group, Arnold Murphy’s Bologna Dare. There’s just one problem: none of the guys actually plays an instrument. Will Coop regain his “cool” before it’s too late? Or will the forced one-on-one time with Helen teach him a lesson about social status he never saw coming?

Don Calame does one daring thing with Beat The Band. He chooses a protagonist who’s kind of a douche. It’s the one brave decision in an otherwise formulaic, if entertaining novel.

Coop – the wacky sidekick from Swim The Fly – is elevated to pole position here, so much so in fact that the rest of the gang are barely mentioned other than to drive the plot forward. He’s a collection of big ideas and self-created slang, the kind of person who thinks the world should bow down before him and can’t understand why they don’t.

With his first novel, Calame struggled with writing the female characters, but that’s something he’s managed to overcome here. Helen Harriwick has echoes of Diane Court from Say Anything, a girl hemmed in by public perception and desperate to cast off those shackles. Helen’s journey here is more interesting than Coop’s, though his obliviousness to her plight rings scarily true.

Calame has captured the solipsism of teenage boys to a tee in Coop, a kid who happily undermines the girl who both fancies him and offers him salvation through her singing ability. But Coop’s blinkers – and the way in which teenagers can perpetuate a stereotype even when no-one really understands why they’re doing so – is accurate and clever.

Still, the author falls foul of a rudimentary plot and whisper-thin supporting characters (another hangover from his time as a screenwriter) and it’s still not very funny, even if the final hurrah will satisfy (kind of) every geek who wanted to inherit the Earth.

As with Swim The Fly there is a suggestion of something deeper here, bullying for example, but I imagine Calame is quite happy for his audience to simply pile through a book which is slightly overlong though very pacey.