A boy growing up in Utah wrestles with his faith, national identity and burgeoning musical talent in Book 1 of this coming-of-age trilogy.
While riding in a cattle truck en route to his new family home in Bountiful, Utah, Shake Tauffler hears a sound on the radio that changes his life. Shake seeks out a name for the sound in a local music shop where the owner plays him every instrument in the store until they figure it out: The instrument was a trumpet. The sound was jazz. Shake’s story unfolds as he settles into his new life in Bountiful, earns money to buy a trumpet of his own, navigates his first adolescent crushes, and attends Sunday school, where he learns about his responsibilities as a Mormon boy. While his Swiss immigrant parents’ accents and his love of jazz set him apart from his Sunday School comrades, Shake joins his peers in exploring his emerging sexuality, staggering nervously through Mormon rites of passage and questioning fundamental tenets of Mormonism. Early on in the narrative, Shake’s friends discuss an Elder’s lesson on God’s intervention in people’s lives. Jasperson says, “ ‘You’re not supposed to question things.’ ‘I don’t,’ says West. ‘I just need for them to make sense.’ ” It’s this need that sticks with Shake when he encounters what he sees as the ill-reasoned rules and rituals of Mormonism. Despite his parents’ hostility toward jazz, music becomes central to Shake’s spiritual life in a way religion hadn’t. Amid a shifting sense of belonging, he works to reconcile his Mormon and musician selves. If at first readers find the second-person narration to be cumbersome, the strain will fade into the background as Shake’s personality comes into focus, and he emboldens himself to challenge his community’s efforts to mold him into a model priesthood holder. Shake’s observations reveal the absurdity of fundamentalist logic, the deep-seated racism in Mormon history and the extraordinary way music can transport us to a different time, mindset or spiritual state.
Direct, entertaining and sincere; an honest contribution to the coming-of-age genre.