88 pages 2 hours read

Jordan Sonnenblick

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2004

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Summary and Study Guide


Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie (2014) is a young adult novel by American author Jordan Sonnenblick. The story follows Steven Alper, a 13-year-old drummer whose life is turned upside down when his five-year-old brother, Jeffrey, is diagnosed with leukemia. As Steven navigates the trials of early adolescence, Sonnenblick explores thematic elements of resilience, adversity, and family in this coming-of-age tale.

Plot Summary

Thirteen-year-old Steven Alper, a wisecracking 8th-grader, is an enthusiastic and talented drummer with a crush on schoolmate Renee Albert. However, Steven’s life changes forever when one morning, his younger brother Jeffrey falls off a stool and hits his head on the kitchen counter. When Jeffrey’s nose starts to bleed more than usual, his mother rushes him to the emergency room. Steven worries all day that he will get in trouble for letting his brother fall, but when he gets home his parents give him far more disturbing news: Jeffrey has been diagnosed with ALL, acute lymphatic leukemia, and needs to be taken to the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia to begin chemotherapy as soon as possible.

Steven initially refuses to accept Jeffrey’s diagnosis and spends the week that his mom and brother are in Philadelphia convincing himself that Jeffrey is not actually sick. He does not to tell any of his friends about Jeffrey’s cancer and stops doing his schoolwork. Although his friend Annette from All-City Band notices that he is acting strangely, he brushes off her attempts to find out what is wrong. The only relief from his anxiety comes from playing the drums and preparing for the band’s spring concert, in which he will have a starring role.

When his mom and brother return from the hospital in Philadelphia, Steven is forced to confront the fact that Jeffrey is truly sick and has just over a 50% chance of survival. Jeffrey’s chemo treatments make him constantly nauseous and eventually cause his hair to fall out. His immune system becomes so weak that even a slight fever becomes a serious situation. In addition to the emotional toll that cancer takes on the family, the medical bills begin to create serious financial difficulties for the Alpers.

For the first months of Jeffrey’s treatment, Steven struggles to overcome feelings of anger and sadness in response to his brother’s diagnosis. After initially experiencing denial, he tries bargaining with God in the hope of keeping Jeffrey from dying. He becomes more irritable and sarcastic and often wallows in self-pity over the way Jeffrey’s cancer has affected his life. After months of not doing his schoolwork, Steven gets called to a meeting with all his teachers about the fact that he is failing most of his classes. During this meeting, Steven finally reveals that his brother has cancer, and his teachers offer to let him make up the work he has missed without letting his parents know about his slipping grades. Steven manages to catch up in all his classes over the winter break and continues to work hard to stay on top of his schoolwork.

After Steven starts having nightmares about Jeffrey dying, he goes to talk to his school counselor, Mrs. Galley, about how powerless he feels in the face of Jeffrey’s cancer. Mrs. Galley suggests that he stop thinking about the things he can’t change and instead focus on what he can change. This advice inspires Steven to take several key actions. He begins by resolving to stop taking drum lessons so his family can save some money each month. Later, after Jeffrey is teased at school for being bald, he shaves off his hair to support his brother.

Near the end of the winter, Annette breaks her arm and can no longer play piano in the spring concert. Instead of playing in the concert, she teams up with Renee to transform the concert into a fundraiser for the Alper family to help them cover Jeffrey’s medical expenses. The girls figure out that if they sell tickets and advertising they can perhaps raise over $20,000. Not long before the benefit concert, Steven and his dad take Jeffrey to the hospital in Philadelphia when his mom becomes sick. At the Children’s Hospital, Steven meets a girl named Samantha who is around his age and has ALL, like Jeffrey. She tells Steven about how her older sister never visits her in the hospital and makes him promise that he will stay with his brother “no matter what” (232).

The day of the All-City Band concert arrives, and the first half of the concert goes splendidly. At intermission, Annette and Renee announce that they have raised over $22,000. As he is preparing to go back on stage, however, Steven realizes that Jeffrey has a fever. Remembering his promise to Samantha to stay with Jeffrey, Steven decides to miss the rest of the concert so that he can go with Jeffrey to the hospital. At the E.R., the Alper family learn that Jeffrey has only an ear infection and will recover. The next day, Steven goes with Jeffrey to the hospital in Philadelphia for further testing. He is devastated to learn that Sam has died the day before.

At the end of the novel, Jeffrey is in remission and Steven is attending his 8th-grade graduation. Over the last few months, his feelings for Annette have changed, and she is now his girlfriend. Above all, he is grateful that he still has his little brother and that he now has the time to tell Jeffrey that he loves him.