Miss Amy at my library asked me to read The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer. It's a new Young Adult novel, and I think the Young Adult label works, as much as a general label like Young Adult can.
Selwyn Academy is a school for the creatively gifted. It is a school of the arts: dance, theater, music, art, writing, etc. The students are high-minded intellectuals contemplating truth and beauty, art vs. life, until a reality show comes in and makes contestants of them. "For Art's Sake" reduces the student population to shilling their skills and faking relationships in exchange for a shot at screen time and scholarship money.
Some of the students fight back. Amidst an in-depth study of Ezra Pound's The Cantos, Luke, Jackson, Elizabeth, and Ethan (the voice of the novel) create their own underground publication, The Contra-Cantos. In doing so, they uncover bribery among the administration, dishonesty in their teacher, and lose one of their own to the reality show bizniz. (Note my use of tri-colon. Ethan loves tri-colon.)
Hattemer writes a great story with lots of references to art and literature (love!), but the plot of Vigilante Poets moves clumsily. The foursome plan, attack, fail. Plan again, attack again, fail again. Plan a third time! And so on. It's a lengthy book and some parts are downright tedious.
Other parts are exquisitely written.
"But I can also tell you - not from experience but from the glimpses found in day dreams and books and cold hard thought - that once you'be recognized a person as a person, you can start to love that person well. It's an awful thing to learn, but it's the best thing in the world to know."Then again, there are some crude jokes as well as rumors that one of the contestants is sleeping her way to the prize money. (She isn't really, she just needs that prize money so badly, she'll sacrifice her reputation to get it.)
As Ethan says,
"Remember: this is not a novel, not a memoir, not produced by anyone with artistic skill. It's just about what happened last year. It's about reality TV, a desperate crush on a ballerina, and a heroic gerbil named Baconnaise. But mostly it's about my friends. Please remember: not art, just life."