School budget cuts often focus on reducing the size and scope of school arts programs – a hotly contested and highly emotional issue within local communities. Marisa Kanter’s new novel makes a compelling case for schools to prioritize arts education, including arts extracurriculars, using creativity and ingenuity to compensate for the sometimes-unavailable funds.
Protagonist Natalie is sure her future lies outside the realm of the arts; her father is a high school music teacher and orchestra director, her mother is a successful novelist who is now facing a bout of writers’ block, and Natalie herself has quite a lot of talent in both music and writing but also sees that family finances can be difficult without more lucrative and higher profile careers. So, she has convinced herself that she has no interest in following her parents’ satisfying, but financially challenging, footsteps. That is, until she learns that her beloved drama club and many of the other clubs in her school are not being renewed for budgetary reasons. Natalie and her friends, a diverse, highly creative, dedicated group of high school juniors and seniors, know that they need to take steps to prove to the school board that music, drama, and visual arts are vitally important to a rounded education.
Complicating Natalie’s mission to preserve the arts is a deep-rooted rivalry with a classmate, who is also her father’s star music pupil. Natalie and Reid have been engaged for years in a prank war, which often escalates further than either one means it to go. The two are also potential love interests, although neither will admit to the possibility.
As If on Cue has an engaging plot, appealing characters, witty dialogue, ongoing suspense, realistic Jewish content, and a theme worthy of note. Readers who admire the arts and have a healthy respect for community activism will enjoy this thought-provoking and often-funny story about teens finding their ways in a complicated world while deepening their understanding of life and maintaining their values. And a good, solid prank war – that is always thoroughly irresistible!
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.