American contemporary, Good Books for Boys, middle grade, Mystery, Readalouds

Mystery + Music = The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman

Fun cover, fun book

My inner band geek rejoiced in this story about a mousy music teacher with a mysterious past who changes the lives of the students in her music fundamentals class by having them perform three rock pieces in the aptly named Choral Corral. Ms. Finkleman is not the least popular teacher in the school, but she isn’t the best-loved, either. In fact she barely registers in the lives of her students until Bethesda Fielding uncovers a secret in her past, all in the name of Mr. Melville’s randomly assigned, totally odd-ball, Special Projects assignment. When it is discovered that mild-mannered Ida Finkleman used to be the lead singer in a punk band called Miss Mystery and the Red Herrings, everything changes. 

Ben H. Winters* knows funny. Case in point: when the kids are asked to choose the names of their bands, they pick “Band Number One” (so chosen because after much debate they can’t agree on anything else), “The Careless Errors” (the perfect middle grade band name), and my personal favourite, “Half-Eaten Almond Joy” (so chosen because after much debate it was decided they would name the band after whatever one of the group members pulled out of her backpack). I was hooked from the very first chapter, with the excellent line “Bethesda Fielding was enjoying the American Revolution.”

Winters touches lightly on a few issues, bringing some weight to the book. My favourite subplot concerns Kevin, aka Piano Kid, who learns that maybe there is more to life than 6 hours a day of classical piano. The fact that he learns this after repeated listenings to Livin’ on a Prayer, introducing him to classic rock, and eventually, to new hero Jerry Lee Lewis, was even more fun.

Ben H. Winters has a breezy style and a light tone. This is essentially a school story, featuring a large ensemble cast. He is a contemporarary of Andrew Clements and Gordon Korman. Believe me, this is high praise. You don’t get more kid friendly then Clements and Korman. The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman is sure to strike a chord with middle grade ridders, male and female alike (pun totally intended). This book is a little bit Glee, a little bit School of Rock*, and a lot of fun.

The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman is available now in hardcover from HarperCollins.

*Interesting side note: Winters is also the author of the cult mash-ups Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Android Karenina. He also writes musicals! I think I’m in love! Ten points for Ben H Winters!

**This comparison is cleverly noted by a character within the book. How very meta-literary. Ten MORE points, Ben H Winters!

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