“The Music of What Happens” by Bill Konigsberg— Max and Jordan

Konigsberg, Bill. “The Music of What Happens”, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2019.

Max and Jordan

Amos Lassen

Max is chill, sports,  video games, gay and not a big deal— not to him, not to his mom, not to his buddies. And he has a secret: An encounter with an older kid that makes it hard to breathe, one that he doesn’t want to think about, ever. Jordan is his opposite. He loves poetry, his “wives” and the Chandler Mall. He has never been kissed and searching for Mr. Right, who probably won’t like him anyway. He also has a secret— his mother is spiraling out of control and he’s the only one who can keep the family from falling apart.

We add a rickety, 1980s-era food truck called Coq Au Vinny and prickly pears, cloud eggs, and a murky idea of what’s considered locally sourced and organic to the mix, take it to Mesa, Arizona, in June, where the temperature regularly hits 114 and finish it off with the undeniable chemistry between the two opposites.

Over the course of one summer, two boys will have to face their biggest fears and decide what they’re willing to risk  to get the thing they want the most. You might find this to be a lighthearted romance between two high school boys the summer before their senior year and it is but it is also  a rather sad story about sexual abuse, poverty, mental illness and deceit.

Insecure Jordan is trying to help his emotionally erratic mother make a go of his late father’s food truck, even though neither has any cooking experience. Popular jock Max with his aspirations of being a professional chef comes along after being recruited to hrlp them despite his better judgement. Over the course of the summer, the boys not only make a success of the business but they also find themselves attracted to one another.

I loved reading about Jordan and Max working on the food truck; how they made plans, did recipe research and upgrades, then went on shopping trips, cooking and flirting with each other. At times Jordan’s behaviors seemed a bit naïve and childlike especially for someone nearing college age. But even with that their romance was fun to read about..

Both boys have terrible secrets. Max is struggling to get past his sexual affair with a college guy and Jordan is trying to earn money for overdue mortgage payments that his mother, who suffers from some sort of mental illness, has not been able to take care of. These are very serious issues that these young men have to overcome, reclaim their lives and find happiness and success.

Jordan’s dad has died and his mom is a mess. They are going to lose their home if they don’t make some money and this is why Jordan takes his dad’s old food truck and decides to sell food from it and hopefully earn enough money that summer to save his home. Max has had a sexual experience that he doesn’t quite understand and it haunts him. It makes him question his masculinity. Max helps Jordan on the food truck and their friendship begins. They have fun together and we see that there is definitely more to both boys than the other expects.

Every other chapter is told from the viewpoint of one of the boys. The romance is genuine and unfolded beautifully. The novel also deals some other subjects that are hard for kids to talk about with adults. I loved the opposite attraction and the two boys had more in common than just being gay. Also, I loved that Max’s straight friends were so nonchalant about his lifestyle.

Bill Konigsberg tackles difficult subjects with a light touch and a heartfelt and breezy style. The  themes of toxic masculinity, sexual assault, family trauma, and addiction are so important and are handled wonderfully. He is able to write about the joys of being a teen with just enough hassles to make his characters think and act. Here is his realism. Max and Jordan give us a fresh and a refreshingly honest representation of modern, queer adolescence. Both of them are out cautious. They represent diverse experiences and struggles and their sexuality is just one facet of many, including race and class, that impact their struggles and how they deal with them. 

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