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Formats
Hardcover Book Details
  • 08/2020
  • 9780578766355
  • 384 pages
  • $19.99
Open Ebook Ebook Details
  • 08/2020
  • 9780578738536
  • pages
  • $9.99
Paperback Book Details
  • 08/2020
  • 9780578738529
  • 460 pages
  • $11.99
Joel Levin
Author
Incomplete
Mild-mannered English teacher Brian Smith has a big secret: he used to be a rock star. Kind of. In the summer of 2000, his one-hit-wonder punk band released a radio-friendly pop song and made it big. Then, just as quickly, it all fell apart. Though he's been living a quiet white-collar life for the last two decades, settled in his static suburban normalcy of treadmills and lesson plans and parenthood, a chance discovery leads to a collision between his old world and his new one. What happens when the rock & roll ghosts of the past come back to haunt you? This retired rock star is about to find out.
Reviews
Levin’s relatable debut is a heartfelt coming-of-age story that channels the passions of adolescence into musical revelations. High school English teacher Brian Smith, named after Beach Boys songwriter Brian Wilson and still an unapologetic “Beach Head,” has put his musical past as bassist and songwriter of his own punk band, Call Field, well behind him in the ‘00s. But when one of his students sees Call Field’s one-hit-wonder song “Incomplete” on YouTube, Smith is forced to confront his “rock and roll PTSD”: the painful memories of his departure from his band.

The story looks back to follow a young Smith as he struggles through his adolescence and early college years, honing his musical talent while dealing with insecurities and heartbreaks. Levin captures the mind of an adolescent boy with sensitivity, infusing awkward moments with gentle humor and the darker ones with empathy and compassion. Brian’s richly detailed inner life is the book’s primary focus, leaving its secondary characters less developed. Some readers will want to know more about the band’s other members or Serena, Brian’s unrequited love. However, Brian’s relationship with his father is dynamic, loving, and deeply musical.

The other key relationship, of course, is with music, and Levin’s book is a rock fan’s delight. Though the Beach Boys are the primary musical lens, references to and insights about other bands and songs abound. The invented Call Field material is convincing, as Brian shares both his song lyrics and the creative process he uses to write them. Levin himself also highlights his work’s construction, often directly addressing the reader, making heavy use of reflective foreshadowing, or acknowledging the limits of nostalgia. His work here is indeed “incomplete,” though, as the story only covers the beginning of Call Field’s rise to fame, leaving the rest of the story for a follow-up. By exploring music as a path toward personal growth, this sensitive, lyric novel offers a refreshing twist on the standard bildungsroman.

Takeaway: A Beach-Boy loving ex-punk rocker reflects on life, love, and music in this engaging novel of the rise of a band.

Great for fans of: Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, Rachel Cohn’s Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A

Kirkus Reviews

In Levin’s novel, a rock star–turned–English teacher is thrust back into his musical past.

In the opening pages, narrator Brian Smith recounts his modest success with the punk band Call Field, which had a minor hit in the year 2000, and how he later became a high school teacher. He details his suburban lifestyle and the demanding nature of his job; introduces Veronica Jones, his music- and dentistry-inclined teaching assistant; describes his home office, decked out with rock memorabilia; and relates his complex, abiding love for the Beach Boys. As he teaches Veronica to write efficiently, he reveals his past, and readers learn that his father named him after Beach Boys songwriter Brian Wilson and taught him to play music. He tells of opening up to his dad about his difficulties in life when he was a teenager, including the fact that Serena Rios, his first crush, dumped him. He also recalls the story of when he, along with Serena’s new beau, Steve Öken, and other students auditioned songs for a high school graduation performance, and how later, at UCLA, he met guitarist Noelani Mele’kauwela Aukake’ho’opae, with whom he fell deeply in love. Several pages of this novel are adorned with black-and-white photos that highlight key objects in the tale, such as Brian’s Beach Boys memorabilia, and this helps to bring him to life as a character. Levin also peppers the text with abundant 1970s and ’80s pop-culture references—particularly regarding various bands, which music history buffs will appreciate. However, it’s the nonmusical aspects of Brian’s life—his family history and, in particular, his high school and college romances—that readers are likely to find to be the most relatable and engaging parts of the novel.

An engrossing rock-’n’-roll bildungsroman.

The Prairies Book Review

A tender, wise, and engrossing coming-of-age tale…

Levin’s compelling debut examines age-old questions of love, grief, and art. It’s been ages since Brian Smith, the now high-school English teacher, used to be a rock star: it was in the summer of 2000, when Brian’s one-hit-wonder punk band released a radio-friendly pop song and made it big. But then, just as quickly, it all went to pieces. And now, Brian is content living his mundane life as a young father, husband, and a teacher trying to make a difference in his students’ lives. Things change when the whipsmart, articulate, and determined fifteen-year-old Veronica becomes Brian’s student. A school essay sets Veronica on the trail of Brian’s past. As the ghosts of his rock & roll past resurface to haunt him, Brian finds himself at a crossroads. Levin traces in the minutiae of each small moment of Brian’s life while delving into his inability to come to terms with his past, his longings and regrets, and the self-doubts, fears, and insecurities of his younger self while exploring the thin line between jealousy and rage and love and hate. Over the course of the narrative, readers engage with the challenges of adolescence and young adult life, and learn about the harsh realities of pursuing an art career. Along the way, Levin takes readers on a tour of the vibrant rock & roll music scene, exploring the music of The Beach Boys and others legendary bands. Levin expertly captures a sense of place, and his intelligent writing and sharp wit, combined with his ability to skillfully handle his entertaining cast and snapshots across two timelines, make readers thoroughly invested in the story. The pacing is measured, the prose crisp, and the plotting tightly constructed. Brian’s conflicts over his impossible desires and broken dreams are brilliantly distilled, and they seamlessly fit together into the affecting narrative. Throughout, there are beautifully crafted moments of tenderness between Brian and Mel and their young daughter Sam. With his keen understanding of human psyche and compassionate eye, Levin makes Brian’s story deeply affecting, providing a profoundly moving view of the future touched by the past. The book’s strength lies in Levin’s ability to provide freshly minted perspectives on a coming-of-age story that may seem old and familiar. This poignant novel about learning to live with past failures and love one’s imperfect self will greatly appeal to lovers of literary fiction.

Formats
Hardcover Book Details
  • 08/2020
  • 9780578766355
  • 384 pages
  • $19.99
Open Ebook Ebook Details
  • 08/2020
  • 9780578738536
  • pages
  • $9.99
Paperback Book Details
  • 08/2020
  • 9780578738529
  • 460 pages
  • $11.99

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