This review is sponsored by Candlewick Press.
The word sonder is loosely defined as the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. That’s exactly the concept explored by Battle of the Bands, an anthology of 16 unique stories by 16 different contributors (specifically, 15 authors and Motion City Soundtrack’s Justin Courtney Pierre). While the stories follow different characters, the event that binds them all together is a New Jersey high school’s battle of the bands.
While this book may be especially perfect for musicians and music lovers, each character’s story is so unique that there are even a few who don’t like music at all. It’s impossible not to relate to at least one — maybe even more than one. Battle of the Bands explores high school from not only all members of a band’s point of view but also all walks of life. From the new kid in school to someone falling in love with their best friend; from LGBTQIA+ to persons of color; from lead singer of the very catchy revenge anthem “Heart Shitter” to drummer in multiple groups to unwilling battle judge. There’s no way not to see yourself in these characters.
Reading this after having been out of high school for more than 10 years, I was instantly transported back to the feeling of being a teenager full of hopes and dreams for the future. Nearly every character was yearning for something, be it fame from winning the battle, requited love, the rekindling of a relationship or friendship or sistership, more confidence, or simply a clearer path to the future. All the characters were just at the precipice of the rest of their lives, with this battle of the bands event a tipping point. It goes back to that word sonder, because many of the characters (and us readers) are so focused on winning the battle — of the bands or otherwise — that we so rarely think about how the lives of the people around us are just as complicated as our own.
Although Battle of the Bands was written by well over a dozen different people and every story is only a chapter long, they all blend together quite seamlessly with no jarring transitions from one author to the next. The subtle references to other stories and character crossovers make the editing of this anthology a really impressive feat. I highly recommend this anthology as a reminder of what life is like when you really feel feelings before adulthood sweeps you away.