Bad DecisionsPublisher summary The Bad Decisions Playlist: Sixteen-year-old Austin is always messing up and then joking his way out of tough spots. The sudden appearance of his allegedly dead father, who happens to be the very-much-alive rock star Shane Tyler, stops him cold. Austin—a talented musician himself—is sucked into his newfound father’s alluring music-biz orbit, pulling his true love, Josephine, along with him. None of Austin’s previous bad decisions, resulting in broken instruments, broken hearts, and broken dreams, can top this one. Witty, audacious, and taking adolescence to the max, Austin is dragged kicking and screaming toward adulthood in this hilarious, heart-wrenching YA novel.

Needing a bit of lightheartedness, I discovered a book by an author with a commendable comedic CV.  Michael Rubens produced The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Last Week with John Oliver, and produces and co-writes Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.

I chose it for the opening line: “I’m lazy, and I’m a coward, but I’ll do pretty much anything if a girl is watching.”  Our ‘lazy’ protagonist, Austin, is funny, creative, and possesses a high aptitude for making the wrong decision, worrying his single mother, and attracting bullies.

Yes, it is cataloged as YA (young adult), but Rubens’s The Bad Decisions Playlist is a fun and funny contrast to the recent serious books clogging up my reading log.  In full disclosure, I started reading YA books in 2006 so I could make appropriate recommendations for my middle school students.   I continue to read them on occasion for variety and to appease my ever-pining inner adolescent.

We learn early on that Austin’s mother said his father died before Austin was born.  But out of the blue, long-lost dad, Shane Tyler, appears at their door.  ‘Dad’ is not only alive but one of Austin’s favorite musicians.

Austin’s tendency to deflect pain or confusion with humor can be seen as he and Josephine tell each other about their parents for the first time.

“Love him?” She shrugs.  “He’s my dad.  Can it be the thing where I love him without liking him?”

“Yeah, sure.  That counts.”

“Do you love your dad?”  she asks.

“I don’t know.  I love my mom.  I like her too, ‘cept when she’s moody.  Which is usually my fault, so….  But my dad, he was dead when I was born.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay – he got better, “I say, and start to laugh again.

“She watches me.  “You going to expand on that?”

“Ah, it’s complicated.”

Even though Austin lands the occasional zinging one-liner, he’s simultaneously suffers from the universal disabling awkwardness and lack of perspective we all experience at some point.  Naturally, keeps poking the bear by flirting with the girlfriend of his arch nemesis.

Parental Advisory: There is an acknowledgement that sex occurs in the world (though not explicitly or violently described).  Weed is smoked and underage drinking occurs (fairly frequently, but the effects of addiction are also explored). Off-color language is mostly implied with acronyms and characters instead of letters.

For the most part, this book is appropriate for anyone sixteen and over and on a case-by-case basis for those between thirteen and fifteen years old. 

Still not sure?  Check out these other reviews:

“Funny and painful, it’s a sharply etched portrait of fallible human beings living, loving, screwing up, and making do—and a fine look at the Twin Cities music scene.”
Publishers Weekly

“A charming, at times brutally funny peek inside a slacker’s mind.”

Now I’m curious to check out other books by Rubens:

The Sheriff of Yrnameer

The Sons of the 613


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