Many of us dream of making a difference in the world, of leaving a legacy or inspiring important change. Mark Peter Hughes demonstrates the reality of such a possibility in his new book, Lemonade Mouth Puckers Up, a sequel to Lemonade Mouth.
Set in Opequonsett, Rhode Island, Hughes’ story features an eclectic quintet of teens that have could be called philosophers, social activists, and visionaries: Stella Penn on ukulele, Wendel Gifford on trumpet, Mohini Banerjee on double bass, Charlie Hirsh on drums, and Olivia Whitehead as soulful vocalist. Inspiring devotion and revolution, the fabulous five play music that is wild and quirky. On their journey to establishing themselves as more than teenage rebels and more than a novelty act of high school protesters, Hughes captures both the high and the sour notes. A multi-genre novel, the story unfolds from poly-perspectives via letters, screen play scripts, song lyrics, journalistic style stories, diary entries, interior monologues, and typical prose.
When legendary rock promoter Earl Decker agrees to represent the band, Lemonade Mouth begins its ascent to fame and fortune, but that all changes when the corporate manipulation commences and the quintet refuses to be bullied or to sell their souls. Insults delivered in the Judgment Room launch their resistance, and with each subsequent act of disrespect, they prove their stance against cruelty, ridicule, and humiliation by rejecting gifts “straight from promotions heaven” (137).
Hughes doesn’t just tell an inspirational tale; he has an agenda that takes on reality shows that make meanness part of the entertainment or that feature judges wielding an almost godlike power to deny dreams, “sending people with high hopes to the heights of glory or to the depths of oblivion depending on the words they choose” (99). He compares these shows to the archaic brutality of the Romans sending prisoners into the lion’s den for entertainment.
As culture jammers, Hughes’ teens also challenge the advertising industry, refusing to perform as “spokesmannequins” or plastic dolls. Despite common practice in the advertising industry to create synthetic faces and skeleton cover girls, the group refuses to abide by rules that prey on people’s insecurities. Calling marketing images just another form of oppression and exploitation, the band members object to unrealistic ideals and to images that contribute to negative self-image issues and eating disorders or that make people feel like failures. Instead, they insist that there are lots of different ways to be beautiful, promoting the notion of real as the new beautiful. After all, “being cool shouldn’t mean having to change yourself into something you’re not” (158).
With this book, Hughes addresses the often heard lament, “but what can I do?” In setting right a world gone rotten, Hughes proves that with culture jamming strategies, we’re not powerless to fight back, even if the opponent is a multibillion-dollar industry. He also reminds us that even when we feel strongly about something, we still need to be open enough to realize that our opinions might need adjusting.
- Posted by Donna