Book Review: No Alternative by William Dickerson

NO ALTERNATIVE is a coming-of-age drama that drills a hole into the world of suburban American teenagers in the early 90's.

Thomas Harrison is determined to start his own alternative band, an obsession that blinds him to what's either the mental collapse, or the eruption of musical genius, of his little sister, Bridget. Bridget boldly rejects her brother's music, and the music of an entire generation of slackers, by taking on the persona of an X-rated gangsta' rapper named "Bri Da B."

NO ALTERNATIVE probes the lives of rebellious kids who transition into adulthood via the distortion pedals of their lives in an era when the "Sex, Drugs & Rock’n’Roll" ethos was amended to include "Suicide" in its phrase. 


I was approached by the author to review No Alternative after he read my review of Kurt Cobain’s Journals. Anyone who knows me well, or has read some of my books, knows I’m a big nirvana fan. After I read the description I thought I’d be an idiot to not take a crack at reading it. After all, this book had a history I’d lived through, and an insightful approach to my generation.

The story starts in October of 1994, shortly after the death of Kurt Cobain, when “grunge” music was booming. A seventeen year-old, Thomas, with the help of his love for music, and dusty set of drums, decides to start his own band. His sister, Bridget, (fifteen years-old) hates Thomas’s music and is struggling to find her own identity. The teens are raised in a privileged household, on the East Coast, with a father who’s a judge and their mother is a homemaker.

I had trouble sympathizing with the teens since I lived through this era, experiencing the same timeline, but was not raised in a well-to-do household. “Grunge” is a different experience when you’re from a small town in the Midwest, and you can’t afford a pair of Allstar Chucks.

But this book is the perfect example why I refuse to leave a star rating for a book unless I complete it. While the story is engaging, the narration becomes sidetracked for several pages at a time to give the reader a history lesson on the economy and music from the 1960’s and 1980’s. This may be something a younger person would enjoy if they didn’t know about how the events in those eras effected 1994, but since I lived it, it just felt excessive to the story at hand. There was also a lot of commentary throughout the book that seemed unnecessary, but is redeemed and explained in the last 15% of the book. (I’m not sure of the exact page numbers. I read this on my Kindle.)

Overall I liked this book, but I wished the history lessons had been eliminated. It’s well written, but sometimes I just want a story about people living their lives and let me take it in and interrupted it in my own mind how I would like. Not everything has to be explained away.

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