Making Their Voices Heard – Playing Through the Turnaround

Lynn: Are you looking for something a bit different for the middle school set? Mylisa Larsen’splaying through the turnaround debut novel, Playing Through the Turnaround (Clarion, October 2022) is a great selection.

A group of students who haven’t all traveled in the same social circles, come together in an audition-based elective, Jazz Lab. It is a musical experience guided by an extraordinary teacher that changes the students and their appreciation of each other and of the music they play. When the teacher abruptly leaves and rumors of school budget cuts circulate, the group decides to unite to save their class. As their battle against an uncaring principal and school board escalates, the teens discover that many of them are struggling with the same basic issue at home: the adults in their lives do not listen to them or take their ideas and wishes seriously. This is a theme that will truly resonate with young readers and their actions both at the political levels and the personal levels are compelling to follow.


One of the major highlights of this book is the character development. Larsen has crafted 5 vivid and distinct individuals here and the characters truly carry the story. Told in alternating chapters, each voice is strong and authentic, revealing vulnerabilities and growing strengths. The resolution is somewhat ambiguous but readers will come away confident that this group of teens will move on together, providing support and deep friendship to each other.

This is a debut novel and I was really impressed with Larsen’s writing. She frames her story with a somewhat unusual setting – a Jazz Lab – and one that is welcome. The process of making their voices heard is especially timely. The uniting theme of the book and the endearing and authentic voices make this truly something special.