Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews
I Am Drums
For ages 9 to 12
Clarion Books, 2016 ISBN: 978-0544707108
Sam wishes that she could have a headphone jack in her head so that people could hear her thoughts and understand her “when I can’t say what’s on my mind.” More than anything she wishes her nearest and dearest could and would understand how much she love the drums; how she lives for rhythm, which is the heartbeat of a song. Alas, Sam has no headphone jack in her head and her parents really have no clue that drumming truly makes her heart sing.
Nor do the people at her school, which is why she ends up hitting Danny Lenix with a marimba mallet. Danny tells Sam that “girls look stupid playing drums” and that they have “no rhythm.” He then makes a snide remark about the fact that her family cannot afford to buy her a drum set. This last comment hurts all the more because it is true. Sam’s parents cannot afford a drum set of any kind, nor can they pay for her to have private lessons. All Sam can manage is a pretend drum set made up of books and magazines, which she hammers away on in her room.
Needless to say the marimba mallet incident means that Sam ends up in the principal’s office. Again. Sam is given lunch detention and she is told that Dr. Pullman is going to call her parents to talk to them about what happened. Sam’s father has a short fuse at the best of times and if he hears about what Sam did he is going to hit the roof and ground her for eternity. Which is why Sam erases Dr. Pullman’s message on the family answering machine. She knows she is courting disaster, but she cannot bear to face her enraged father.
Sam’s big dream is that one day she will be able to play the drums in the school jazz band, the best music ensemble in the school, but her hopes are shattered when she finds out that next year there will be no music program in her school. The program is being cut. If there is no music in school there is no way she is going to be able to improve her drumming education and skills.
Since quitting drums is not an option, Sam decides that she has to make enough money to pay for private lessons. She knows that the best local teacher, Pete Taylor, charges thirty dollars a lesson, so somehow she has to make that amount every week.
In the end Sam sneaks the family lawn mower out of the house and mows people’s lawns to make the money she needs. By some miracle Pete agrees to take her on as a student, even though he says his schedule is full. By some miracle Pete is able to clean up Sam’s technique and under his tutelage she begins to grow as a drummer. Sam does not tell Pete that her parents do not know about the lessons, until her secret can no longer be kept. Soon after the house of cards that Sam has built around her drumming dream falls apart.
Young readers will find it hard not to connect with Sam, who is so passionate about music and who has no support from her family to achieve her dream. It is at times painful to watch her dig herself into a deeper and deeper hole of lies and secrets, knowing full well that eventually she is going to get caught.
The author of this wonderful story beautifully captures the love that a person can have for music; a love that can be all consuming. Somehow the fact that Sam wants to play the drums makes her plight all the more poignant, because she very much feels that she is in a ‘me against the rest of the world’ situation.