The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy - Kate Hattemer

I originally bought this book solely because of the cover art and the title, but was also intrigued by the overall premise. I have read a few books over the last year or so in which teens take back their lives, fighting the powers that be, and becoming radical movers and shakers within the realms of schools, churches, and homes. What I love about these is the hearkening back to earlier radical movements that sought to free people from the control of governments and corporations that were only out to gain power and fortune at the expense of the general public. Looking around at some of the social and political forces at work in Canada and the US these days, I am glad to see these works of fiction wriggling their wonderfully subversive selves into the hands of young readers who will become the hope of the next generation(s). That being said, the book is awesome on its own, too!

Ethan, Luke, Jackson, and Elizabeth are all getting sick and tired of the way that For Art's Sake—a trashy reality show under the guise of an artistic competition, being filmed in the halls of Selwyn Academy—has been undermining the very foundations of art and learning. As Ethan and his friends, with the help of BradLee, one of their teachers, seek out a way to rid the school of the reality-show plight, they discover the power of poetry and vigilanteism... that is, until Luke ends up on the show. But that doesn't stop Ethan and the others from getting to the bottom of a nefarious web of secrets and lies going all the way to the principal!
     The Serpent Vice delights at this,
     But Selwynites, let's shout, "Cat-piss!"*
     Shall we permit this tawdry show
     To storm the Muses' high chateau?
     Is this okay? It's not! Hello!       
                -THE CONTRACANTOS
This book is fun. It's engaging, and it's enlightening. I found myself wanting to become an artistic activist myself as I went through the pages. I enjoyed Hattemer's character building and I could see myself walking the halls of Selwyn Academy as well. While moments felt overly-didactic, they still rang true most of the time. Though it started off slowly and in a way that made me wonder how gimmicky the overall narrative would be, I found myself getting pulled in to Ethan's storytelling. 

Some may find themselves thinking that the teens sound too old in their speech patterns and ways of thinking, but much of the novel reads just off from realism, which allowed me to suspend my disbelief and revel in the dialogue. If you want all of your teen characters to sound like stereotypical teens (whether that be whiney and angst-ridden or somehow less... smart?) then you may find yourself disappointed. The fact that the school is allowing for the filming of a reality television series involving their own students and putting them in situations that are less than ethical, I felt, gave me the freedom to see this world as not-quite-true-to-life and to therefore just enjoy the ride.

The book is smart without seeming aloof, realistic while allowing for the imaginative, and radical without being off-putting. (As Ethan would note, that last statement was a tricolon!) If you like poetry, vigilante art students, and if you hold reality television in relatively low esteem, then I'm sure you will find much to savour in this fabulous volume.

Highly Recommended

*Upon reading the novel, you'll realize that this is an allusion to Ezra Pound and not just a random exclamation involving feline urine.


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