Reality TV is everywhere; one can hardly think of an aspect of modern American life that hasn’t been manipulated, exposed, and hyped up by “reality” TV. So it’s no surprise that the casualties of this epidemic are starting to find their way into other media, including books for teens and kids. Last year I loved A.S. King’s Reality Boy and on Sunday I fell head over heels with Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff. Earlier this spring I got lost in the halls of Minneapolis’ Selwyn Academy, a fine arts high school that is at the center of For Art’s Sake – Fame, but for Real. Kate Hattemer‘s The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy chronicles everyman Ethan Andrezejczak’s junior year at Selwyn, one painful day at a time, existing as he does on the periphery of stardom and the augmented reality of For Art’s Sake.
In all honesty, Ethan doesn’t really mind the show; he’s actually secretly in love with the beautiful, unattainable dancer at the center of the show’s one too many love triangles, Maura. It’s Ethan’s best friend, Luke, who declares that their foursome of friends, including Jackson and Elizabeth, have to do something about this sleazy show that is hijacking their education: “that’s how our friendship worked: Luke would get into something, and shortly thereafter I would too”(68). Inspired by the long poem as social commentary of Ezra Pound, the four friends write, illustrate, and covertly print and distribute a poem to “reclaim our society and values and culture.” (66) Their work has the desired effect among the student body; but as it gets out into the world, the poem’s effect on Luke and Ethan takes them all by surprise.
Surrounded by fantastically talented and driven teens, in an artificially hyped up world, Ethan is refreshingly relatable as an awkward, kinda nerdy kid, just like the rest of us. Used to just following along and enjoying the ease of being part of a group with a charismatic leader, as the school year passes Ethan is forced to do quite a bit of soul searching (and some much needed maturation) to figure out exactly who he is, what he wants, and how (and if) he’s going to stand up for what’s important to him. Hattemer’s characters capture the passion, confusion, single-mindedness, and obtuseness that are hallmarks of high school, and she combines them with wit, skill, and a respect for her characters and readers. Without a doubt, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy earns a booming “THAT WAS ART!” from this humble judge.
- Posted by Cori