Sixteen-year-old guitar prodigy Ori Taylor is finally coming into his own. His band—which, granted, still needs a bass player and a name—is gearing up for Battle of the Bands, he's working on his issues with stage fright, and people are starting to see him as someone other than Del Taylor's little brother...
...until Del drops out of college and moves home. In the old days, Del was a great older brother: he was always the golden boy, popular and irresistible to the ladies, but Ori didn't mind being in the shadows because he also always had Ori's back.
Not anymore. The new Del is angry, discontent, negative, self-absorbed, and unpredictably antagonistic. So now Ori—instead of being able to focus on the excitement of the band, buying his dream guitar, his growing fame, and the suddenly very-real, honest-to-goodness possibility of a career in the music industry—is getting shoved (sometimes metaphorically, sometimes more literally) back into the corner by Del.
But Ori doesn't really fit in the corner anymore.
Although Ori is the clear focus, the secondary characters—Ori's bandmates and the fans who regularly visit the website—are all ultimately likable, and despite their small roles, so well-developed that I could easily imagine any of them being the focus of a future book set in the same high school. (Love that.)
It was the portrayal of Del, though, that especially impressed me. Even in the scenes in which he acts like a huge jerk—and there are many—I felt for him. Not to say that I condone his behavior, mind you! But it's always clear that he's in a bad spot and that he's hurting, so it's pretty impossible to simply dismiss him as a villain. Adding to that and to the complexity of Ori's feelings, the flashbacks do a lot to show the huge change in him since making the difficult transition from Big Fish/Small Pond/High School to Regular Fish/Big Lake/College.
It would be easy to simply peg Rock On as an easy, breezy read about music and first love. But, like Jacyln Moriarty's books, Vega's collage-style novel—Ori's narration regularly pauses for screenshots from the band's website; transcripts of email, IM, and text conversations; flashbacks and other things—is a quick, entertaining read that features three-dimensional characters in occasionally hilariously-over-the-top (yet still believable) situations who deal realistically with complicated emotions.
Recommended to all of the usual suspects (fans of YA contemporaries, of stories about brothers, of music-centric books, of the collage-novels). Oh, and a special note to fans of Antony John's Five Flavors of Dumb: one of the members of Ori's band, like FFoD's Piper, is hearing-impaired.
Book source: ILLed through my library. This book was read for the 2012 Cybils season.