Premise: Ben Jensen is a freshman at Brighton University who wants to branch out into some new experiences in college. Why not try out for a college a cappella group? In the dorms he meets Caroline Cooper through an impromptu guitar jam session. When he finds out she can sing and that she is trying out for an a cappella group, his mind is made up: he simply must try out. However, Dani Behlman is the fiercely competitive president of the co-ed Harmoniums who might already have plans for both of them. Taylor Stuart is the TA from International Studies class who also happens to be the neurotic president of the Chorderoys, the other co-ed group on campus.
Not only are there these singing groups pitted against each other, but these a cappella people also encounter betrayal, find love, and discover who they really are. Caroline is the girl of Ben’s dreams, but she is still dating her hipster boyfriend from high school. Dani has plans to recruit Ben for her rise to stardom and is willing to do anything to get it, but ends up finding more in the process. Taylor discovers his true self, along with Nicole, Renee, Akash, and the rest of the college gang.
When it is learned that Student Government is going to have to cut singing groups due to budget cuts, the presidents go into overdrive to recruit the best singers, pick the best songs, and perform to their fullest. Dani pulls out no stops to make the Harmoniums safe from cuts, while pushing the Chorderoys closer to the chopping block. Of the six groups on campus who will come out on top, and will it matter after a year of forming friendships through music?
Themes: As said in my description of the book’s premise, this is a book about discovery. College is definitely a place of finding your true self, and these characters are no different. Especially with the freshmen like Ben, Akash, Nicole, Renee, and even Ben’s non-aca roommate Wilson, each character has to overcome their parents’ expectations to discover who they are and who they want to be while having new experiences, finding love, and shedding their past disappointments.
Forming strong bonds and finding your people in something like an a cappella group may seem silly, but I can attest that it is possible. When you come across something special you know it, and Ben spots it from the moment those first groups perform at the recruitment concert. Something may be geeky, but if it speaks to you it might just grab you by the heart and have you for life.
Dani gives us an example of the throes of ambition and the lengths someone is willing to go in order to achieve their goals. But when she encounters something better does that change her goals or does it give her perspective on the people around her that she might be hurting?
Pros: The main characters are interesting and their interactions were fun to read. I really started to hate Dani and her scheming until she became a real person with flaws and feelings. By the end of AcaPolitics I wanted to know more about her and Ben and Caroline and the possible love triangle there. The camaraderie between all the singers and their groups is palpable and, as I can attest to it, realistic.
Cons: Describing characters by their voice parts and their defining quality, such as “the petite soprano” and “the theatrical alto”, were sustained through the story and these character trope descriptions bordered on annoying. Many of the characters were defined well enough that these became unnecessary later in the story. Also, adding “aca” to anything does not necessarily make them special to the a cappella community. I still have no idea what “acaflirting” is.
Recommendations: As an avid a cappella junkie and reader I thought AcaPolitics was a fun and fresh novel, and the only story I can think of set in the college a cappella realm. While the book has its flaws, it is fun and flirty (but not acaflirty), and full of relational conflicts. A cappella fans will love AcaPolitics as they reminisce about their glory days, while this novel will make high school grads give a second thought about dismissing a cappella group auditions in college. Non-acas may not connect with the subject matter, but the characters make the story work. If the rumors I hear about a sequel are true, I am looking forward to knowing what will happen next on the Brighton University a cappella scene. But that’s easy for me to say because I am an acanerd.