Source- Review copy/ University of Queensland Press
Synopsis: For a group of young people on the cusp of adulthood, music is their bond. RPM follows Neil’s tentative early forays with girls, his fumbling attempts at musical greatness with his band and his dreams of leaving small-town confines behind.
Along with a lively cast of characters — JD the DJ, Stephen the Mod, Peaches, Jools One and Jools Two, Neil is drawn to returning London-based musician Ray Peter Manning and his record store, RPM. Drawn together by their shared love of ‘60s rock and surrounded by the offerings of old vinyl, this unlikely group of friends find a way to drown out the sorrow of the past and plot their youthful dreams of escape.
Set in the early 1980s, this award-winning coming-of-age story vividly portrays small-town life and its challenges for young people on the edge of adulthood. RPM is a story with a big heart and a wry grin.
Review: RPM is about a group of youth who share a passion for music and dream that it will take them out of their small Australian town. It is told from the POV of Neil a 19 year old guy who still grieves the death of his older brother Carl, the talented, loveable guy that Neil looked up to. Besides their enthusiasm for music, the brothers couldn’t be more different. Neil is always hiding in the shadows, he is shy, indecisive and lacks confidence which can be endearing and frustrating at the same time. Especially when bubbly Charley comes onto the scene as Neil lacks the assertiveness to pursue their relationship let alone get up the nerve to call her.
The group of young guys that Neil associates with; JD, Stephen and Barrington all finish school and go off to work or study but continue to be lured back to their small home town where their friendship originated. Their dream of being a successful band seems to wax and wane until the infamous Raymondo Manning, an international rock star returns home and opens up a quirky record store called RPM. The boys’ musical interest reignites and they finally get serious about their band. The personalities in the group are quite interesting and the author easily creates an atmosphere of lives linked by history and longstanding friendships. Neil comfortably goes with the flow and assumes his position in the band while trying to make sense of his feelings for Charley which are conflicted with his close friendship with Meg.
I enjoyed the small town atmosphere, the realistic characters and the importance of friendship and dreams that is highlighted in RPM. However, I didn’t get the sense that Neil really grew during the story, although perhaps as a young guy he did develop a deeper understanding of himself in the context of his brother’s loss which made up for it. The ending left things quite open ended and I was sad to not know what Neil decided to do about Charley and Meg, it would have been nice for him to take charge a little. Despite this, I think it was an enjoyable read and would suit anyone who appreciates Australian literature, good ol’ fashioned rock music with strong friendships at its heart.
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About the author: Noel Mengel was born in Kingaroy, Queensland, in 1957 and has worked as a journalist since 1981. He worked as a magazine editor in Sydney and since 1990 for Brisbane newspaper The Courier-Mail, where he has been chief music writer for the past 10 years. He has played in rock bands since he was a teenager and still does. He lives in Brisbane with his wife and three children.