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Rock On    by Denise Vega order for
Rock On
by Denise Vega
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

The countdown for the Battle of the Bands competition has begun. Days go by as The Band To Be Named Later runs a contest on their website. Their front man (center stage in the cast of Denise Vega's Rock On) is Orion 'Ori' Taylor. Ori is a natural guitarist who began at seven to play by ear. The high school sophomore dreams of becoming a celebrated rock singer. He has a talent in song and poetry writing, and works part-time at a music store, saving to fulfill his dream of owning a Les Paul guitar.

Ori's band members include drummer Nick Brewster; guitarist Troy Baines; and Troy's girlfriend Alli who fills in as band spokesperson and news reporter. The new member (who wins the band's contest for a bass player) is deaf Gwynn Farcosi, who rocks big time through the feel of vibrations and use of sign language - (this reviewer finds her role in the story inspirational). The band is filling in time practicing in a garage, performing at clubs for exposure and funds - gearing up for the Band competition.

Ori is shy of girls until Gwynn's friend Jane offers one of her poems set to music. Just as Ori feels he's coming into his own, out of the shade of older brother Del, said bro comes home from first-semester College, reason unknown. Ori finds he is slipping into a backseat again, as Del charms the girls, and is under consideration at the high school as an assistant to the Lacrosse coach. Added to Ori's trials is Del's request for a loan from younger bro's guitar savings. Ori stands up to Del with a refusal. Del leaves home to live with a friend's family. Younger sister Vela is disheartened by big bro Del leaving, coming back, and leaving again.

Award-winning author Denise Vega weaves together Ori and Del's interactions during their boyhood, high school and now Del's return. The author cites character communications through the website, blogs, emails, et al, intermingling teen poetry and songwriting, and through flashbacks. The theme is a strong one but I found the insertions of varied forms of communication bumpy, with some explanations missing or left up in the air, in this rather slow-paced story.

The author tells us: 'It might seem strange for someone who is (a) not a guy and (b) not musically inclined to write a book about a naturally gifted guitar-playing singer-songwriter dude, except ... (a) I grew up listening to my dad and my brother play their guitars, (b) Dad would spin the Beatles, Jose Feliciano, the Kingston Trio, John Denver and Charlie Byrd, among others, on the record player and (c) I spent hours listening to albums and singles (yes that would be vinyl cuz I'm old) ... Yet I love music--how it makes me feel, what it promises, where it takes me. Rock On is my love letter to all the bands and musicians who pour their hearts and souls into their music, changing lives in the process.'

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