Alex Dyson, When It Drops, Hardie Grant Egmont, May 2020, 336 pp., RRP $19.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781760505042
Caleb Clifford is a socially awkward sixteen-year-old, with few friends, but a secret life creating his own songs on his computer. Carelessly, he leaves his computer on and accessible for his annoying younger brother Nat who naturally uploads Caleb’s favourite song to the world, to unexpected resounding success. And to Caleb’s mortification and anger. Why? The song is about the girl Caleb has had an unexpressed crush on for years, and he uses her real name. The immediate success puts Caleb, and all his family, into a spotlight none of them welcomes, coming just twelve months after father Roger’s death from cancer.
Dyson, former award-winning triple j presenter, has great knowledge of music and the stresses imposed on emerging talent. He creates a story full of embarrassing situations such as vomiting on an agent’s shoes, or a radio interview when the presenters appear not to have any understanding of polite social boundaries, or when a teacher finds Caleb in his own daydream which results in an erection. Some of them are cringe-worthy but funny and appropriate to the voice of sixteen-year-old.
Caleb finally is given the opportunity to present his work at a major music festival, where he shows his understanding of music and the power of silence by stopping his newest song, creating a silence long enough to build tension, and then releasing the audience from the suspense. The musical references throughout are fun and consistent. Even though many of the artists are unknown to me, being from a very different age demographic, they are relevant to a young adult audience. I did enjoy the puns and allusions to the Beatles.
I love this book. It has some flaws, but so do all teenagers, especially boys, navigating their way through the dynamics of changing relationships. Overall, it is an empathetic story of family dynamics, modern music and musicians, and developing and past friendships, all tinged with humiliating and uplifting situations and lots of humour. I am far from my teenage years, and it’s quite some time since my children were teenagers, but it’s a book full of real people and events. Well done Alex Dyson on your first novel.
I can well understand why has been made a 2021 CBCA Notable book for Older Readers. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Maureen Mann