I was so in love with Marisa Kanter’s What I Like About You that I immediately put her other book, As If On Cue (Simon & Schuster Books for Young People, 2021) on my TBR. She has such a fresh, engaging style and writes such great banter between teens who are complex characters. While As If on Cue didn’t speak to me quite as much as her first novel (likely because the first told the story of a book blogger! Can you blame me?), I still really enjoyed the story and Ms. Kanter’s engaging style.
Disaster has struck Natalie’s high school. Budget woes are everywhere, and the arts program has been cancelled, leaving the theater, choir, and art kids outraged and depressed. Not the band kids, though: the band is a money-maker for the school, and a community favorite; their funding, and thus Natalie’s father’s job as director, is safe.
Natalie is not okay with this, and she sets off trying to right this wrong, desperate to show her principal and the community that the arts are worth funding. Staging a performance of the play she and her best friend have written, a retelling of Frozen called Melted (focused on – what else? – climate change) will prove how serious the arts students are about their crafts. Seemingly standing in Natalie’s way at every turn is Reid, Natalie’s lifelong frenemy, family friend, and the clarinet protégé of her father, the reason why she and her father have never been as close as she wants. Holy frustration all around, Batman.
As Melted becomes more of a reality and turns into a musical instead of just a play, Natalie finds herself thrown together with Reid more and more…and she’s not hating it as much as she figured she would. But after so many years of hating Reid’s guts, can she really trust that he’s not just here to sabotage everything? When push comes to shove, Natalie lets her worst instincts take over…only to find that she may have inadvertently ruined not just Melted and any chance the arts program had of ever being funded, but Reid’s future as well.
Phew, this was a tense one! As If on Cue starts out with a problem that will, unfortunately, be familiar to far too many teens: the slashing of school budgets, particularly of the arts (always the first to be cut, of course). But instead of wallowing and complaining, Natalie takes action…though not always in the most appropriate or mature ways. Her determination to reinstate the arts program is both a blessing and a curse, as her single-minded focus tends to get in the way, a lot, but it provides for some amazing plot points. Natalie’s a great character; she’s fierce, determined, and creative, but she’s also lacking a little maturity, something she realizes later on. I really appreciated her complexity.
Reid is also a fabulous character. His musical prowess could make him snobby and unlikeable, but although Natalie sees him as such through much of the story, he’s never actually that guy. His determination is quieter; it’s only Natalie’s perspective of him that’s off, and this makes for amazing conflict.
The friends, the friends! Marisa Kanter is great at writing fleshed-out side characters who are so chill and so human. Can she write me a friend group, do you think? Is that a thing? (Please say yes.)
I really enjoyed As If on Cue. While I never had experience with a community who felt its school arts programs were expendable, I know far too many places that have had that exact experience, so this is a story that should speak to teens who understand the fragility of community support for their creativity. And Ms. Kanter’s delightful, fresh style makes the story come to life. I *really* want to attend a stage performance of Melted now…
Visit Marisa Kanter’s website here.
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