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Book Review: "AcaPolitics"

Shaina Eng |
November 16, 2011 | 3:49 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

AcaPolitics details the collegiate a cappella scene at a fictional university.  (acapolitics.com)
AcaPolitics details the collegiate a cappella scene at a fictional university. (acapolitics.com)

With shows like “Glee” and “The Sing-Off” gaining popularity, and with groups like Straight No Chaser attracting a mass following, vocal music is making a comeback in mainstream culture, and Stephen Harrison’s new novel, “AcaPolitics,” rides the contemporary a cappella wave.

Drawing from his own experiences as a member of After Dark, a co-ed a cappella group from the University of Washington in St. Louis, Harrison tells the story of the collegiate a cappella scene at a fictional Midwestern university, Brighton University. 

The campus has six different a cappella groups: the “all-bro” group, the Gobfellas; “sisters in song,” the Notabelles; the Jewish group “with chutzpah!”, La*chaim; the geeky guy group, the Dinos; the first Brighton co-ed group, the Harmoniums; and their rivals, the Chorderoys. 

In particular, the reader follows the latter two co-ed groups, the Harmoniums and the Chorderoys, the pursuits of their respective presidents, Dani Behlman and Taylor Stuart, and a few fresh-faced first years auditioning for the various groups.

At the beginning of the school year at Brighton, the school’s student government plans to cease funding for one of the school’s six groups, which ultimately means that one group will be cut.  The president of the Harmoniums, Dani, and the president of the Chorderoys, Taylor, conclude that since the two groups are so similar, they're the two that are the most at risk.  The novel then goes on to detail the various tactics that the two groups employ to ensure that they will come out on top.

Within this plot, the reader follows Ben Jensen, a bright-eyed freshman, and his pursuits in this new a cappella universe as a member of the Chorderoys. In fact, the reader is introduced to a whole slew of fresh-faced a cappella newbies (Akash Sheffield-Patel, Caroline Cooper, Nicole McLain, and Renee Murphy), and the novel details the initial stages of a cappella discovery, auditions, initiation, and integration for these young college students. Right from the start, a romantic subplot emerges; Ben is attracted to Caroline, and they seem to have everything in common. Too bad Caroline has a boyfriend and becomes a member of the rival Harmoniums…

The novel is thoroughly entertaining and gives some interesting insights into the world and politics of collegiate a cappella.  However, there seems to be some subplots that are not properly resolved by the novel’s conclusion, and some details, such as the development of minor characters, seem to fall by the wayside.  Nevertheless, since the novel is the first of a four-part series, Harrison plans to tie up several of these loose ends in the future novels of the series.

There are several characters and sub-plots to keep track of throughout the course of the novel, but art imitates life—just as in real life, the reader gets to know each and every character's backstory and discovers that living the a cappella lifestyle is anything but simple.  If you ever want to take a peek into the workings of a collegiate a cappella group, or even if you're looking for a fun read, be sure to check out “AcaPolitics.”


Reach reporter Shaina Eng here.  Follow Shaina on Twitter.

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