Title: The Bad Decisions Playlist
Author: Michael Rubens
Purchase: Available August 2, 2016
Overall rating: 4/5
Great for: Music lovers
Themes: Music enthusiasm, dysfunctional families that still love each other, growing up is hard, navigating early relationships, attention seeking, finding your path in life, taking responsibility, accepting people for who they are, how many times can you screw up and still be given another chance
Extras: Any book that comes with a Spotify playlist is already a winner in my… book
Review: The main character of the book, Austin, is the perfect blend of likable and unlikable. A seriously flawed yet typical teenager, Austin will do anything to impress a girl, inspiring his friends to nickname his list of conquests “the Playlist.” So where does the “bad decisions” part come in from the title? Well, from basically every decision Austin is ever faced with.
Raised by a single mother who’s in and out of rehab, Austin grows up believing his father to be dead. He has such a wry, raw sense of humor, and the book is written purely from his point of view, full of his own personal anecdotes. He switches from ordinary teenage thoughts (“Instead what I’m going to do is screw up again and die.”) to surprisingly deep observations about life (“I see my mom like the game where you pile the sticks atop each other, the structure going higher and higher and more wobbly with each new addition. Then finally there’re too many sticks and everything collapses.”)
Austin is a naturally gifted musician with an unfortunate case of stage fright, and never having known his father, Austin doesn’t realize his talents come from the father he never knew—until said father shows up very much alive and turns out to be famous musician Shane Tyler. When Austin begins bonding with his estranged father, a very clear path pops up in which they can bother help each other; Austin can help inspire Shane to finish his album, and Shane can help Austin overcome his stage fright and find purpose in life.
Unexpectedly, this book does not tie up all loose ends neatly and instead reflects the reality of life: it’s messy. His mother’s lawyer boyfriend turned fiancé ends up being Austin’s biggest helping hand, the real adult authority figure Austin needs in his life (since a possibly mentally ill mother and a definitely absentee father don’t cut it), constantly bailing him out of trouble until even he can’t take it anymore. “But here’s how it works,” the lawyer fiancé says. “Very soon you’ll get to be a real grownup and comprehend that the world doesn’t revolve around you. That you, and only you, are responsible for you. No one else.”
This surprise ending works, though, because there are a lot of times you just want to shake Austin silly and tell him he doesn’t deserve all the good fortune he’s had… So it’s a bit selfishly satisfying when everything doesn’t work out perfectly for him.