Forward March by Skye Quinlan

Publication date: March 8th, 2022

– eBook provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Since this book is as of yet, unpublished, this review will not contain direct quotes from the text.

Review:

Full disclosure here: I am a 31-year-old woman, and not in the target audience for this book. I often read YA literature to preview it before putting it in my classroom and recommending it to my students, who are mostly 16 to 18. Sometimes, though, I’ll read a YA book for purely selfish reasons, and this was one of those times. When Forward March became available as an advanced reader’s copy (ARC) though NetGalley, I pounced on that request button and I actually did a happy dance when I was approved to read it before publication.

I devoured this book. I didn’t want to put it down. I didn’t know much about it before beginning, except that it was at least partially centered around a marching band. (I confess to not reading the synopsis at all before requesting the ARC of this book. I am a terrible person. I know.)

I was delighted to find a teenage girl that wasn’t sex obsessed when it came to romance. In fact, it made Harper a very refreshing character. I immediately became enamored with her as our lead character and was excited to fall into her story.

It all starts when someone impersonates Harper on Tinder, a (mostly) hook-up oriented app. They send some obscene and risqué messages to Margot, one of Harper’s bandmates. When Margot confronts Harper about the messages, the two begin a tenuous friendship as they ponder over who would do such a thing. Harper is terrified that it might have something to do with her Republican father’s fledgling presidential campaign. Harper has it rough enough as the daughter of her boarding school’s no nonsense Dean. Now that her father is running for president with a platform she abhors, the pressure is really on. If anyone were to find out about that fake Tinder profile, Harper would really be in some trouble. And so would Margot. There’s got to be a rule against racy social media messages on campus, right?

Friendship drama dominates the first half of this book and family drama dominates the second. All throughout Harper is surrounded by a delightfully queer cast of characters (because marching band is kind of a magnet for any kind of people who don’t quite belong or fit the social standard of the day). Harper feels like a bit of a late bloomer as she navigates budding romance and finding her own identity both inside and outside of the expectations upon her, but that was just another thing I found refreshing about her. Harper is young without being annoyingly or unbelievably naïve.

I loved this story all the way up to the end. Sure, the presidential campaign (including a visit to the White House) was underwritten, and there were a couple of pacing issues, but I didn’t care. As an adult reader, I recognize that the campaign is not the focus of the story and that most teenagers wouldn’t care about it. The author chose correctly to devote detail and time to other matters. What really bothered me was where the author pigeon-holed Harper into a particular type of forgiveness after some SERIOUS betrayals. Forgiveness does not have to mean everything goes back to normal. No one else “wins” if you move on from relationships after trust is broken. Implying that Harper had to forgive and essentially forget at the end of the novel in order to be the bigger person, feels disingenuous and a bit like victim-blaming. The ending lowered my rating from a four star to a three star experience. It was completely mishandled in other ways as well, but I won’t spoil for you. Beyond what I’ve said, the issues I had with the ending may or may not bother you, depending on personal experience.

It’s still worth the read, especially if you needed this book as a high school student. I know if I had been able to read this when I was still in marching band, I think it would have helped me be a more understanding person much sooner.

Pros:

  • this book is basically a boarding school for marching band (not really, but close enough)
  • easy flow will have you flying through this story
  • So much queer rep! (genderqueer, lesbian, bi, gay, ace)
  • Brings back all my marching band nostalgia and makes me want to throw that clarinet reunion party we’ve talked about for the past fifteen years.

Cons:

  • the ending took this book from a good read to an okay read – not to spoil, but you do not have to forgive anyone and you do not have to keep anyone in your life in order to forgive them – the ending ignores betrayal and trauma and left me feeling several kind of ways
  • A couple of major side characters could be more fully described

Rating:

  • ⭐⭐⭐

Recommended For:

  • band geeks
  • young adults looking for queer rep
  • fans of boarding school books

Books to Read if You Loved Forward March:

Let’s Discuss! (Pick a question and drop a comment with your reply!)

  • In your experience, do students who choose a particular instrument have common personality traits? (i.e. Trumpet players are loud and confident, clarinet players are a cult, trombone players are quirky but loyal, etc.)
  • What is a book you wish you had access to when you were on the cusp between high school and college?
  • Is it fair for a politician’s children to be fair game for the media?

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