06. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, 336 pages, read by Courtney, on 07/01/2014

A group of friends, Ethan, Elizabeth, Jackson, and Luke, are all seniors at Selwyn Academy, a prestigious art school and the filming site for the current season of “For Art’s Sake”, a competition-style reality show. No one in the group is competing in the show, but that doesn’t stop the show from interfering in their lives in a number of frustrating ways. Ethan, the narrator, accidentally witnesses the show being filmed and realizes that not only is the show impeding actual learning and creativity, it’s also mostly scripted. Ethan doesn’t hesitate to share this information with the group. When Luke’s critical review of the show is rejected by the school newspaper for being unfavorable to the show (and the school’s participation in it), the group decides they ought to do something to make a statement. It’s not until they begin studying Ezra Pound that they figure out how they’re going to make their statement. Inspired by Pound’s Cantos, the group creates the Contracantos, a delightfully funny and scathing long poem. They then illustrate, hand-letter, print, and distribute the first installment of the Contracantos. Then they wait for a reaction. Imagine their surprise when Luke, the poet of the group, is approached by the show’s producers and subsequently added as a contestant. With Luke gone and not speaking to the rest of the group, Ethan and his friends must find a way to carry on. Good thing they’ve got the help of a gerbil named Baconnaise, who will prove to be surprisingly heroic for a rodent.
I enjoyed this one quite a bit. Ethan and crew are an intelligent and sarcastic bunch. I can’t help but feel that the secondary characters could have been better developed, but they may also have been a stylistic choice as the narrator has difficulty viewing others as much more than an archetype. The idea of a reality show essentially taking over a school, no matter how artsy, is abhorrent to me. Of course, I’m not a fan of the reality show genre in the first place, so this book may have been preaching to the choir in that sense. It definitely has a satirical tone to it. The whole “vigilante” artist thing is quite clever even if it’s hard to imagine someone who writes poetry as being fodder for a reality show. A fun and engaging read, complete with amusingly-named house pets.

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