238 pages, young adult
I’ve thumbed through Scott Westerfield’s Uglies Quartet a few times, and found its concept and characters intriguing. That said, the series itself is quite a chunk to sit down with—and if I’m going to read a series, I’m going to attack the whole thing in one run. Before making that leap, though, I wanted to see what Westerfield had to offer as a writer—so I picked up his brief, stand-alone novel So Yesterday.
Since my first goal was assessing Westerfield’s style, I’ll mention first that it is easy and engaging. His 17-year-old protagonist (Hunter Braque) seems a bit sophisticated for his age, and his detailed historical mini-lessons also seem a bit out of character for most high-schoolers. My conclusion regarding Westerfield as an author, though, is that his other works will be worth a read after all. This is good news.
I won’t summarize the storyline per se, except to say that Westerfield develops the idea of a “hidden” hierarchical “cool pyramid” that analyzes trends and fashion. Hunter, as a 17-year-old, is a regularly-paid consultant somewhere near to top of this pyramid. This rigid structure along with some larger-than-life action in the book seem a bit artificial, but I forgive the artificiality for what the structure and action accomplish: pointing up the hidden connections and assumptions embedded in the consumerism and popularity cycle of modern life. In this way the whole plot structure acts more like a modern allegory than straight fiction, and to this end it is a profitable read.
On another note, the book was first published in 2005, and as such, it’s an interesting blend of relevant modern references (WiFi, smart phones, Google, etc.) and laughable anachronisms (in order to learn how to tie a bow-tie, Hunter calls the public library using a land line to ask the librarian to find a book on etiquette and read him the bow-tying directions. The characters also watch an old dub of an anime episode on a VCR. And these were not intended as jokes). This is inevitable, of course, since innovations are happening more quickly all the time, but some items seem out of place even for 2005. In a book titled So Yesterday, it’s ironic that many of Westerfield’s references live up to the title so well. (In all of this, though, the message and application still come through.)
A caveat on “the objectionables”: the book does contain a few “entry-level” swear words (shit, etc.), and this should be considered as educators or parents look to the book for sharing, reading and discussion. Let me say, though, that shared discussion between parent, mentor, or teacher and child is the best place for material with objectionable content, and open dialogue about it is probably the healthiest thing for pre-teens and teens as they live in and are bombarded by far worse every day. Trying to cloister a child not only stifles intellect and discernment, it is also impossible to do in the first place.