Teen Tuesday – The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer

One Way I Could Start This Review

I requested an advance reader’s copy through NetGalley (thank you, Random House!) based on the title alone because, come on, vigilante poets? I could just imagine them riding into town, pens drawn, ready to whip out a verse at the first sign of injustice. And they do! When their elite arts academy becomes the location for the reality show, “For Art’s Sake,” Ethan and his best friends protest by writing a long poem that they secretly publish and distribute. Inspired by their English teacher’s lectures on Ezra Pound, they call their paper “the contracantos” which becomes a big hit with the students. The consequences, however, are entirely unexpected and for Ethan in particular, distressing.

vigilantepoetsAnother Way I Could Start This Review

Do you like character-driven stories with quirky plot devices? Do you enjoy smart and funny dialogue and realistic settings? Intrigued over furry pets named after condiments? How about bossy four year-old triplets with a Candyland fixation? Are you wondering what an interrobang is? Say “yes” to any of these questions and grab a copy of The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy. Don’t let the cover put you off! (I’m not even sure who those guys are supposed to be.)

The Third Way I Could Start This Review (and then I’ll be done, I promise)

If you count Maureen Johnson, A.S. King, Rainbow Rowell, and John Green among your favorite authors, get ready to add Kate Hattemer to your list. Her first novel, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy,is an engaging and witty romp that manages to put another spin on reality tv and, at the same time, have readers musing over Ezra Pound, punctuation, and the recurrent use of tricolons. Like the YA authors mentioned above, Ms. Hattemer has a great ear for dialogue and her characters, especially narrator Ethan, are earnest and impassioned, smart and self-deprecating. Their camaraderie is the soul of the book and anchors all the crazy antics that follow. These are the kinds of friends everyone wants in high school.

Against all the chuckles, the deceptions, the crazy scheme to take back the school, there are very real messages here about art and principles. Can art stand alone? Should it be measured by the beliefs of the artist who created it?  Is it acceptable to compromise oneself for art’s sake? While there are no easy answers, there is certainly much to laugh over and reflect upon. Spend time with Ethan and his friends and you’ll be hoping, like me, that Kate Hattemer hasn’t entirely closed the book on these unforgettable characters.

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