THE VIGILANTE POETS OF SELWYN ACADEMY by Kate Hattemer (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014)

14 Dec

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 9.01.11 PM GENRE: Realistic Fiction

HONORS: None Known

REVIEW: Tricolons, interrobangs, a gerbil named for a condiment, Ezra Pound, and reality TV form an unlikely narrative in this charmingly odd tale of Ethan Andrezejczak and his best friends Jackson, Elizabeth, and Luke, and their fight for the artistic integrity of life. When a hit reality TV show, “For Art’s Sake,” begins filming at their Minneapolis arts high school, Ethan’s group scorns the fakeness and sleaziness of the endeavor. Inspired by Pound’s The Cantos, which they are studying in English, the group’s talented writer Luke writes his own long poem, titled Contrecantos, that tears apart the show. Their teacher, BradLee, pushes them to clandestinely distribute the poem to the school, setting off a chain of events and revelations that expose the truth of life and art.

OPINION: With a satisfying mix of quirky situations, witty dialogue, and brainy exploration, Vigilante Poets is a joyful journey into the meaning of life, the meaning of art, and the meaning of friendship (often set within a tricolon setting). Author Hattemer plays with many forms and makes complex ideas engaging when seen through the eyes of Ethan, the least talented of the many talents at the school. But as Ethan struggles to find his place—what he begins to think of as his “betweeness”—he begins to understand the “tremulous fusion between self-trust and self-doubt” and realizes that being talented at life is just as important as being talented at art. Vigilante Poets examines the differences between sacrificing for what you love and exploiting what you’re good at. It’s a deceptively light-feeling book with heavy ideas at its core.

IDEAS: Ezra Pound is a complicated writer with challenging words—could someone read the entire 120 sections of The Cantos and read this book as well? As doubtful as it is, it could be interesting to compare a few sections of The Cantos to analyze its meaning in relation to Vigilante Poets. A biography of Pound read in conjunction with this book could also be interesting. Or reading other long poems to learn about the genre (Frost, Dickinson, or Wilde) could be a good experience as well.

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