The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman
by Ben H. Winters
Recommended Ages: 12+
To make the rock concert come off, and to pay Bethesda back for outing her, Ms. Finkleman strikes a deal: Bethesda will tutor an easily distracted, rock music obsessed classmate named Tenny to make it through Melville's floating midterm, and Tenny will actually put together the rock concert. The sixth-grade music class forms three bands, each learning a song from a different decade and the whole group working up an encore number for the Choral Corral. They start out sounding awful, but with Tenny coaching them in a way that makes it seem like Ms. Finkleman is doing so, they gradually pull together as a band (I mean, three bands) and are about ready to rock the town when Melville announces the surprise exam on the eve of the contest. This last-minute crisis goads Bethesda and Tenny into desperate undertakings, with the pride of Mary Todd Lincoln Middle School on the line.
This is a heartwarming and hilarious tale about middle school friendship, the love of music, the pressure of performing, and making peace with people who have hurt you or been hurt by you. It is full of zany characters, including a classically trained boy pianist who "needs to rock," a pathologically competitive principal who makes embarrassing bets with the head of a competing school, a goofy assistant principal and an overachiever whose cold, unnurturing father stands in the doorway saying "there, there" at her without moving a step closer, and who proceeds to coach her on how to blackmail a teacher into letting her will be done. Bethesda and Tenny don't come out squeaky clean, considering the choices they make, but their music class catches an enthusiasm for rock music that's really infectious.
Ben H. Winters is the author of the parody/pastiche novels Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Android Karenina, the Last Policeman trilogy (The Last Policeman, Countdown City and World of Trouble), the speculative fiction novels Bedbugs, Underground Airlines and Golden State, and this book's sequel, The Mystery of the Missing Everything.