Monday, March 10, 2014

ARC Book Review: The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer

Title: The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy
Author: Kate Hattemer
Publisher: Knopf/Random House
Release Date: April 8, 2014
Rating: 2/5

Cover Impressions: 
This cover is interesting, but I am not sure that I love it.  The colors are a little bland and the two characters on the front are trying far to hard to look cool.

The Gist:
The students at Sewlyn Arts Academy have been invaded by reality TV.  The new hit show For Art's Sake is being filmed in their halls and is pitting student against student for a once in a lifetime chance at a scholarship that could change their lives.  Mediocre student Ethan, and his friends are appalled at the changed that this has caused in their school and the way that Ethan's crush, Maura, is being portrayed.  Inspired by Ezra Pound's long poem, they decide to write one of their own - to protest and bring down For Art's Sake, even if it means losing one of their own. 


I had a difficult time with this novel.  I feel like this book was written for a reader that is far hipper than I am and I found the overly adult dialogue being spouted from the mouths of teenagers to be more annoying than refreshing.  I actually found myself finding other things to do and other things to read, rather than to finish this novel.  

This book had a bit of a strange structure.  At the beginning, there were 3 "opening" chapters that jumped around in time.  I found this to be a bit disconcerting as I was concentrating more on figuring out the time structure than in relaxing into the story.  This is repeated at the end with three "How it could have ended" chapters which did not allow me the sense of closure that I was hoping for.

My biggest problem came from the fact that there was no real sense of urgency in this story.  Yes, their school was hosting a reality show competition but, I never really felt like this impacted their life in any meaningful way.  It had to be annoying, sure, but other than having a few classes interrupted or having to avoid certain hallways, school appeared to be continuing as usual.  Instead, the characters just felt like overprivileged children that were desperate to find something to rage against.  The whole idea of protesting through the use of a long poem was so inauthentic and it turned me off the characters immediately.  I teach teenagers and even my brightest student would never find this idea the least bit appealing nor would they have any chance getting their entire student body to read it.

The story could easily have been saved if the characters had been a little more interesting.  I saw hope, the triplets were wonderful.  I loved how funny they were and the sweet way that Ethan's relationship with them was portrayed.  I found myself daydreaming about my son playing Candy Land with a (yet to be conceived) younger sister.  These moments gave me real hope for the story and the characters because they were so well written, cute and funny.  They showed a unique view of the teenage boy's personality and made for some very amusing interludes.  I actually found myself very unhappy to see them end and the "real" story pick up again.  The other characters were flat and boring.  Other than their particular talents, they didn't seem to have any personality.  Ethan's ridiculous crush on Maura was maddening, even more so when he was blind to see that he actually did have a shot with her, and self deprecation and dependence on Bacconaise in every situation became more and more annoying as the story wore on.

In the end, I was treated to a predictable plot twist and ending.  What I was not expecting was how preachy things would get.  Clearly the author has some issues regarding reality TV which, quite honestly, may be founded in a great deal of truth.  However, I was not prepared to listen to a soap box lecture on the woes of commercialization.  

Teaching/Parental Notes:

14 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Electrocution of an animal
Inappropriate Language: Piss, Ho, Slut, Bitch
Substance Use/Abuse: None


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