I was a band geek in high school. First chair saxophone and section leader my junior year before I got TMJ and had to give up my sax, but I played cymbals in order to march my senior year. Because that was my favorite part of high school--band, especially marching and competitions. Cymbals were a major step down from first chair and section leader--my fellow cymbal players were a pair of 8th graders with at best a nodding acquaintance with rhythm. But at least I got to stay in band, and my classmate the drum captain gave me a solo of sorts: I was the only cymbal player allowed to do the big crashes at the end of the national anthem.
So, given my background, I was eager to read American Band (Kristen Laine, 2007), the story of a championship band from an Indiana high school. But I think even a non-bandy could find something compelling here. The author follows the band director and several of the kids through the season, focusing especially on the trumpet section leader, a brainy, focused kid wrestling with a crisis of faith, first love, and family issues that rock his identity as the season goes on. It's an astonishingly intimate work of nonfiction. I feel like I got as deeply inside the head of Grant Longenbaugh, the trumpet player, as I generally do with a well-written fictional character. And I wept at the end. There's one tragedy in the book that's well-telegraphed, but another that's one of life's terrible sucker-punches that no one sees coming--not the reader, not the people who endured it.