HELLO! I’ve finally managed to pull myself out of my Polar-Vortex-induced winter malaise, which essentially left me an incommunicative recluse, mainlining The Guild on Netflix. I was, of course, reading the entire time, and now that the sun has stared shining again, I know it’s time to tell you about some of those books. I’m starting things off with an excellent book released last week called, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy.
I was asked to review this book for Booklist, and was immediately taken with it–a feeling that stayed with me to the last page, so much so that I gave this book my first starred review. I’m pleased (though not surprised) to say I was not alone in feeling this way because Kirkus and VOYA also gave Hattemer’s debut a star. Here’s my review from the March 15, 2014 issue of Booklist:
“When the reality show For Art’s Sake begins filming at the local high school for the arts, a group of juniors rebels against the prostitution of their talent and forms an underground poetry movement called “The Contrecantos.” Taking cues from Ezra Pound’s work, their poetic protest goes viral and becomes the most-read publication at school. But after one of its number defects, the group must reassess its purpose and decide how to use the evidence of corruption it has found regarding the show’s production. Amid the drama and intrigue, narrator Ethan Andrezejczak must do a great deal of soul-searching and maturing to see where he fits into the equation. In this place of immense talent, Ethan is immensely relatable as the voice of the average (that is, socially awkward) teen. Hattemer writes with a refreshing narrative style, crafting both believable characters and a cohesive, well-plotted story. Romance, while in the air, takes a sideline to friendship, which proves to be the book’s heart and soul. Relying on the passion and ideals that drive adolescence, this has a vibrancy and authenticity that will resonate with anyone who has fought for their beliefs—or who has loved a gerbil. (You’ll see.)“
I think it’s funny that two of my recent YA favorites have used a premise of reality TV, the other being A.S. King’s Reality Boy, but do so in completely different ways. While both are narrated by teenage boys, King’s novel is serious and angsty (read an excerpt here), whereas Hattemer’s tone is light and humorous, even when things get real. I find it hard to believe that Vigilante Poets is Hattemer’s first book because it is so well done. Her writing style is fresh and well-structured, and her characters authentic. Her protagonist, Ethan, is a lovable, relatively average Joe, who is the most endearing underdog I’ve come across in a long time. His enthusiasm for tricolons and interrobangs is catching (In fact, it inspired me to write my own interrobang blog post), and his affection for Baconnaise the gerbil is one of the sweetest relationships to appear in print.
It is rare to find realistic teen fiction these days that is not saturated with angst, relationships, or saccharine whimsy. This is a book where ideals are put to the test, without becoming too idealistic in its writing, and I think it fills an important gap for many “regular” teens–those without chaotic home lives or turbulent relationships, those without lighting-fast wit or above average intelligence and talents, those who are neither popular nor unpopular, those who care about their friends, those aren’t entirely sure what their lives to be.