By Sarah N. Harvey
ISBN No. 978-1-55469-252-1
By Michele Martin Bossley
ISBN No. 978-1-55469-220-0
Both available at www.orcabook.com
Those of you disheartened by the seemingly endless downward trajectory that is tween/teen magazines can take your heads out of the oven now. Judging from two new books for kids you may be raising Noam Chomskys instead of Paris Hiltons after all. “Plastic” is the more topical of the two books. When Leah announces she wants some plastic surgery for her 16th birthday her best friend Jack tries to talk her out of it. What follows is a dramatization of every alarmist newspaper headline you’ve read in the past couple of years about young girls wanting nicer cheekbones and bigger breasts. The difference here is that Jack’s case for a modest B-Cup is fuelled by some Hardy Boys-style investigating that flushes out a couple of corner-cutting plastic surgeons. Even better, this revelation leads to a public protest – which, in turn, leads to a violent splinter group taking up Jack’s cause without his approval. While the book milks the mediagenic outrage of a culture obsessed with physical perfection, it also illustrates the embryonic fanaticism that’s borne of – seemingly - every societal protest; be it a global summit on climate change or the Winter Olympics. Forty years ago a businessman in “The Graduate” summed up the future to the younger generation with the word “plastics,” and so it has come to pass. The strongest word for tweens and teens today is a word you hardly ever hear them say: “no.” In our hyperkinetic, disposable culture, the book “Plastic” is that rarity: a readable cautionary tale about responsible activism.
As usual, “Bear Market”, about the poaching of bears for their gall bladders, is arguably the more important yet less palpable of the two books. And it’s to Bossley’s credit that her book is just grisly enough to get young minds thinking about taking up the cause, but not so much that you have to stop reading because you’re disgusted with your fellow humankind. She presents the poachers’ side with a kind of polite, cultural respect (which is more than they deserved. See? There’s my disgust for my fellow humankind) and has her three lead characters succinctly address the moral quandaries of correcting the destructive, exploitive beliefs of other cultures. Socio-politics aside, her book is a really catchy read. Sure, there’s the suspense element, but just reading the nuts and bolts about how her characters talk is oddly fascinating. Maybe it’s a backlash against all the vague “highbrow” fiction I’ve read (or just a complete disgust for the Bret Easton Ellis humankind) but the joy of “Bear Market” is just how forthright and sincere a read it is. The book captures the tween/teen energies of today’s kids in a way I hadn’t read before.