Synopses & Reviews
"Kristen Laine went back to the heartland-- to the America so many of us fly over without blinking an eye-- and uncovered ... a world where salvation and ambition and teenage angst collide in strange ways no outsider could ever understand, unless you read American Band
--Michael Bamberger, author of Wonderland: A Year in the Life of an American High School
Every fall, marching bands take to the field in a uniquely American ritual. From the stands, it looks easy. You dont see them sweat. For millions of kids, band is more than a show. Its a rite of passagea first foray into leadership and adult responsibility, and a chance to learn what it means to be part of a community. Nowhere is band more serious than at Concord High School in Elkhart, Indiana, where the entire town is involved with the success of its defending state champion band, the Marching Minutemen.
In the place where this tradition may have originated, in the city that became the band instrument capital of the world, band is a religion. But its not the only religion, as director Max Jones discovers. After four decades, Joness single-minded devotion to musical excellence has fallen out of step with a younger generation increasingly focused on personal salvation. In what his students do not know is his final season of directing, he has assembled his most ambitious show ever, for the strongest senior class he has ever directed. Amid conflicting notions of greatness, the band marches through a season that starts in hope and promise, progresses through uncertainty and disappointment, and ends, ultimately, in redemption.
AMERICAN BAND is an unusually intimate chronicle of life, in all its triumph, disappointment, and drama, in the kind of community in which most of America lives. It is an especially timely portrait, capturing as it does the spirit of the heartland at a time of profound change. If you have ever beenor yearned to bepart of something bigger than yourself, you will be rooting for the kids whose voices fill this book.
"In 2004, first-time author Laine immersed herself in Elkhart, Indiana's Concord High School Marching Minutemen, a 240-plus ensemble preparing to defend its state title, and emerges with a detailed and intimate account that delves deep into the rarified world of competitive high school marching and the students, parents and teachers devoted to it. Max Jones is the band's hard-nosed director, in his final season at Concord, and just beginning to fall out of touch with his young charges; students, meanwhile, juggle social and spiritual concerns with their all-consuming commitment to the Minutemen (practicing more hours than even the football players). In the stories of a trumpeter whose mother contracts terminal cancer, a clarinetist who longs for her native California and a drum-line captain who aspires to West Point, Laine finds an intriguing sample of small-town, red-state Middle America's next generation. Her descriptions of field performances-from the earliest planning stages to their in-competition execution-are intricate, but fail to convey their power or majesty; in addition, Laine's emphasis on narrative observation over direct quotes gives the work a magazine feature feel. Still, Laine brings passion, curiosity and affection to her heartland chronicle, ideal for anyone who's ever marked time with an instrument at the ready." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
has everything going for it, from tempo to heart to the grand bittersweet finale. What a gift for readers: a pitch-perfect tribute to kids and song and community.
Madeleine Blais, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle
"As a spats-hating, apathetic, marching-band clarinetist in high school, I didn't recognize the driven and talented Concord High musicians who train harder than the football players at whose games they perform. But American Band is much more than the story of a season in the life of the most fanatical practitioners of this uniquely American ritual. Kristen Laine has produced a captivating portrait of what it's like to be a teenager in middle America in the first part of the 21st century."
Stefan Fatsis, author of Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players
"Football isn't the only thing happening underneath those Friday night lights. American Band leads us through the championship season of Elkhart, Indianas Marching Minutemen. But most importantly, author Kristen Laine shows that in the heart of the heart of the country, so- called quaint notions like community and personal excellence are alive and kicking."
Cathy Day, author of The Circus in Winter
"Through the graceful narration of Kristen Laine, a season of a high school band becomes the provocative story of young men and women grappling with issues of friendships, ambition, and spirituality. American Band transports us to the real America that so many journalists simply fly over. It makes us care us care deeply about the parents, kids and teachers who come together to create a sense of community in these fast-changing times."
David L. Marcus, author of What It Takes to Pull Me Through: Why Teenagers Get in Trouble, and How Four of Them Got Out
"American Band is a compelling story of young people finding their voices, their callings, and their rhythm. In Kristen Laine's hands, the unfolding highs and lows of a group of high school musicians becomes an unlikely but utterly convincing venue for relating universal experiences: learning to love, learning from loss, struggling with faith.... In other words, growing up. With remarkable empathy and skillful prose, Laine not only grants access to the lives of the teenagers whose stories she so poignantly tells, she actually makes the reader nostalgic for high school, for that time when we dreamed big dreams and loved our friends as if the music of life depended on them. Best of all, while American Band will surely be relished by those who have glide- stepped to Take the A Train, it invites even those of us who wouldn't know a piccolo from a pipe organ to take the field and march along."
Peter Manseau, author of Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and Their Son
A triumph! American Band is an incisive portrait of life and coming of age in our heartland - a place so many of us feel free to ridicule and analyze, but so rarely take the time to truly comprehend. Kristen Laine pushes right through the stereotypes about red states, evangelicals, and the nature of life in the middle of our nation. American Band, is, in one sense, a well-paced page-turner in the great tradition of competition narratives. But it is also much more. Kristen Laine has blessed us with a deeply serious, life-affirming book whose quiet insight and wisdom will stay with the reader many years after those pages have been turned
Susan Eaton, author of The Children in Room E-4
In the spirit of "Friday Night Lights," Laine presents the stirring story of a marching band from small-town middle America in this snapshot of a heartland community and its triumphs, disappointment, and drama.
About the Author
Thirty years after she marched in an Indiana high school band, Kristen Laine returned to the state, moving her family from New Hampshire to Elkhart to immerse herself in the story of the Concord High School Marching Minutemen. She is an award-winning journalist whose commentaries can be heard on Vermont Public Radio.