Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy

 I've got mixed feelings after finishing Kate Hattemer's debut, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy. I loved the writing: I thought Hattemer was smart and clever and the English major in me admired the way she managed to weave in both Ezra Pound's Cantos and the rhetorical device of tricolon.

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn AcademyI liked the characters too: they were messy and flawed and they made mistakes and used snap judgments. Ethan's ultimate realization that he'd been idealizing people because it was easier than dealing with them in their messy contradictions and depth rang true to me.

But I wasn't entirely happy with the plot. In the story, Ethan and his friends attend a private high school for the arts that has been overrun by a reality TV series. When their English teacher introduces them to long poems as a form of social protest, Ethan's charismatic friend Luke decides they  need to rebel--through poetry. (Note: I can't imagine very many places besides an art school where this would be considered cool, let alone rebellious). And for a while, it seems to work. Until Luke gets incorporated into the reality TV world and Ethan has to decide what it is that he really wants. The resolution to the whole reality show v. authentic art seemed far-fetched to me.

Aside from that, I think a lot of teens would like the fun relationships between friends, Ethan's hilarious triplet sisters, and the gerbil that's almost another character. Some readers have observed that the lack of romance (it never goes beyond the level of crush in any direction) makes the book seem young, but it seems true to life to me for a boy like Ethan who's still trying to figure out how to read romantic cues and doesn't know enough about himself to even know what he likes.

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