This book has been on my radar for a while when it first caught my attention back in November ‘10, when I saw that it had a deaf protagonist. It’s rare to find characters with disabilities in YA outside of an issues book, and the blurb sounded great. Combine that with the fact that everyone and their dog has been praising this book, and my need to read it grew pretty dang high, as did my expectations. Let’s just say I was not disappointed. At all. I’ll get the bad stuff out of the way first, because it’s such a seriously small list that I may as well. There was a character in the latter end of the beginning that was introduced, a DJ at a failing radio station that Dumb gets an interview at, who was portrayed in a way I didn’t like. He’s a fat man (and he’s fat because he eats junk, as evidenced when Piper sees him pull a bag of gummi bears out of his pocket. Newsflash, not all fat people are fat because they eat junk food) and he’s pretty much portrayed as a loser. He leers at and comes on to Kallie (who is seventeen, and he’s in his thirties) and we’re obviously not meant to like him. I’d be fine with it, except Piper made a few disparaging remarks about his weight, and we’re obviously meant to see him as a loser because he’s fat, in addition to being creepy. I’m quite tired of that cliche being portrayed as acceptable. It stood out to me because I’m a fat woman, and because of the over all strength of John’s characters. They’re all obviously fully realized people, so to see that stereotype pop up was incredibly disappointing, especially in a cast of extremely strong characters. Now on to the good! The amount of YA cliches Five Flavors of Dumb breaks is almost astounding. For one, the story is more focused on Piper’s journey as she learns to handle the band, grow up, and deal with her strained family. There’s a very slight romantic angle for her and another character, but honestly, it took up maybe forty pages of a 352 page book, if that. It wasn’t the focus of the book and it wasn’t the focus of Piper’s life. But what we DID get of the romance was beyond awesome, and it’s definitely a romance that other writers should take notes from. They respect each other, he respects her agency, they fight sometimes and have disagreements, they have lives outside of each other... it was honestly a little shocking to read because, to be frank, I’ve gotten used to lead couples in YA being obsessively in lust, not love, with each other. There were times when I honestly had to put the book down and sigh happily because, finally, a couple in YA did it for me. Another great thing is the characters. They’re all greatly rounded and well written, but I want to focus on the female characters, Tash, Piper and Kallie. I loved these girls. I love how they do start out unfriendly towards each other, their emotions ranging from uneasiness, dislike to downright hatred, but then they grow and learn and finally respect and love one another. They all have moments of empowerment, which was amazing to read. When Kallie first joined the band I was afraid she was going to be the evil slut girl of the group--you know, the one who wanted Piper’s true love and therefore was a horrible girl for it? Well, more fool I. Kallie ended up being my favorite character out of all of them, right next to Piper. A scene of hers near the end of the book moved me right to tears, and it’s not often that a book or a character does that. I love that Antony John gave us people, not cliched characters. The only character I wish we had maybe gotten more development on was Will, the lead singer’s brother, but honestly given his personality I think it was deliberate on John’s part not to focus so much on him. There was another situation that I thought would go the way of the YA cliche, but again, more fool I! One of the band members ends up becoming the most hate-able character in the book (and that’s saying something considering who I’m going to be talking about next), and he does a lot of stuff that’s passed off as romantic in some popular YA right now. I dreaded reading his story arc, because I was SO scared everyone would forgive him for being an abusive, creepy jerk. But no. Everyone calls him out on his crap, and he’s portrayed in a VERY negative light as the abuser he is, and the resolution to his storyline was so, so pleasing to read. I honestly cheered when I realized what John was going to do with him. Big props to Antony John for that The other two characters that stood out to me were Piper’s parents. At first I honestly hated them because they made a decision about Piper’s younger sister, who is also going deaf, that was an extreme breach of trust between them and Piper. I’m not saying that I’d know what to do in that situation, or that it’s an easy situation to deal with, but I do know that I’d talk it out with my kid first and ask their permission instead of going behind their back. The way they handled it was just horrid. Add to that the fact that her Dad is quite honestly a total jerk for the better part of the book, and I just did not care for them at all. However, John does eventually redeem them, and that was no easy feat. It’s a credit to his writing skills that I was able to come out of the book not loving her parents, but at least liking them instead of outright hating them. But hey, at least they’re actually present and trying to parent their children. A lot of other books seem to have mysteriously disappearing or conveniently absent parents to make their plots easier to write. Antony John has obviously done his research about deafness and has taken every measure to portray it well. The conflicts Piper has because of her being deaf and being surrounded by people who aren’t were well written, and I loved reading her POV. From the little details like realizing John hasn’t written in any kind of sound description, unless people or objects are close to Piper and her hearing aid, to the big things like Piper tackling the issues that arise from her deafness head on with other people, including her family. I have major respect for Antony John and how he portrayed it, because he obviously did it with the greatest respect himself. Five Flavors of Dumb is definitely one of those books that lives up to its hype. From the strong cast of characters (especially the women) to the strong, respectful writing, it is absolutely a book every contemporary YA fan should check out. I’ll be eagerly looking forward to devouring future books from Antony John.