Two years ago Hope Larson introduced us to 13-year-old Bina in All Summer Long who has a natural ear for music. Bina goes to her first gig, starts to take up the guitar and is encouraged to start her own band. All Together Now picks up exactly where All Summer Long finishes when Bina advertises for band members at her school. Whilst the response rate is poor in fact only one girl responded; sometimes all you need is one person. Bandmate Darcy is not only an excellent pianist having played since she was five; she is also a good friend who affectionately refers to Bina as her “evil twin”. The only thing the girls’ band (called Fast Fashion) now needs is a drummer.
Whilst the recruiting stage is fun as the girls put up adverts together; things start to go wrong for Bina once they find their drummer called Enzo. Enzo insists on changing the band name to The Candids and within a short time starts dating Darcy which results in her spending less time with Bina. Creative differences occur as Darcy and Enzo want the band to head in a more “Edgier”, “shoutier” punk direction whilst Bina prefers a more pop sound. Bina then gets kicked out of the band she founded by text and Enzo and Darcy not only form their own band; they also steal one of Bina’s songs called “Arroyo Sero” a well-known Park in Pasadena.
Bina uses these events to channel herself to be “productively upset” now believing that the way to build upon her previous material is to make it more personal which will make it harder for someone else to steal from her. Despite being equipped with a notebook and a guitar tuning app; Bina is at first unable to find inspiration. Thanks to Bina’s mum’s “inspocrastination”; Bina is then inspired to write a song where she ponders if she and the boy next door Austin (who have only shared a “Combined Summer Fun Index”) can be more than friends.
As All Summer Long was a coming of age book so is All Together Now. As well as Bina looking taller and older with longer hair; the reader also gets to see Bina grow to be more mature mentally and emotionally as Bina realises that she can only peak creatively as part of a band as opposed to being just “a cheese ball singer-songwriter”. Bina also realises the power of communication and speaking things through with people which allows her to once again be Darcy’s “evil twin”. Whilst All Together Now is a great story about how the power of music can get people like Bina through teenage challenges; its relatability stems by not offering an unrealistic “Happy Ever After Ending” whilst offering realistic hope.
For music enthusiasts, the greatest development in All Together Now is the reference to real bands like “The Germs” and as opposed fictional ones which festoon All Summer Long. All Together Now goes even further by referring to the places that have offered bands inspiration. For example, Bina’s camping visit to the Joshua Tree National Park sees Larson discuss Gram Parson who was a member of The Byrds and toured with Emmylou Harris who recorded at this National Park and also sadly died there from a drugs overdose when he was just 26 years old.
Larson also compares to ex-The Go-Go’s (which Belinda Carlisle fronted) band member Margot Olavarria who was allegedly expelled from the band as she was frustrated with the shift in direction from punk-rock to pop. With Bina it was reverse: she was kicked out because of her frustration with her bands’ shift from pop to punk-rock. Ironically, whilst All Together Now is not accompanied by a soundscape and none of the songs Bina’s writes, records and sings live have actually been made; the reference to real bands and their sources of inspiration actually help the reader to take fictional Bina as a musician much more seriously than they did when the read All Summer Long.
One again Hope Larson through the medium of the graphic novel has shown us the power of music and how sacrosanct music is to young people. The excitement of young people in All Together Now going to and playing in humble small venues reminds us all of the need to ensure these places not just survive, but thrive post-Covid for young adult readers and the up and coming Bina’s, Darcy’s and Enzo’s.