Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Three Reasons to Read The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy

I am a seasonal reader, the type to plan my TBR lists to match the month and the temperature outside—down to the degree, down to the day. Therefore, when I discovered The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy, with its colorful cover and lively-sounding plot, I knew I had to read it in the springtime—and I wasn't disappointed when I did. Quirky, funny, and vibrant, this book is perfect to read in the next month or two as spring becomes summer, begging for a full-of-life story like this one. Need more convincing? Here are three more reasons to read it.

the book

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release: April 8, 2014
Source: Library
Whip-smart dialogue and an inside look at the seedy underbelly of reality TV come together in this critically-acclaimed debut perfect for fans of Unreal, John Green, and Frank Portman.

Witty, sarcastic Ethan and his three best friends are students at Selwyn Arts Academy, which has been hijacked by For Art’s Sake, a sleazy reality-television show. In the tradition of Ezra Pound, the foursome secretly writes and distributes a long poem to protest the show. They’re thrilled to have started a budding rebellion. 

But the forces behind the show are craftier than they seem. The web of betrayal stretches farther than Ethan could have ever imagined, and it’s up to him, his friends, and a heroic gerbil named Baconnaise to save Selwyn.

three reasons to read it

Nearly every aspect of The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy is offbeat, some elements slightly exaggerated. The plot, of course, is highly usual and leaves plenty of opportunities for unique drama and complications. Even more endearing, however, are the characters' signature personalities. I most enjoyed reading about Jackson, whose habits include writing his notes in binary code every Thursday and whose family names all of its numerous pets after condiments, but I also adored the rest of the leading cast. Ethan's narration contains plenty of witty quips and lighthearted plays on the English language, Elizabeth's no-nonsense attitude and practical planning stand out against a school of dreaming artists, and Baconnaise is the singular most lovable and heroic hamster in all of fiction. When such clever, amusing characters are faced with such an unlikely series of events, the result is a story that will have readers smiling throughout and even laughing out loud from time to time.

Despite the slightly larger-than-life plot and characters, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy stays realistic and relatable by accurately portraying the academic side of high school. It explicitly mentions characters doing homework—a plot element that is unrealistically absent in far too many YA novels—and even better, the subject matter and assignments are accurately described. The characters do derivatives and conic sections in calculus, and they plod through IDs for history class. (I don't even want to talk about how many books I've read in which a character's math homework doesn't match the subject of his or her class.) Even better, many scenes take place in the classroom, with varying levels of focus on the actual lesson (the characters usually participate in English class; in calculus, usually not). The realism of Selwyn Academy's academics provides a stabilizing plot element when For Art's Sake gets out of hand and will have readers convinced that Kate Hattemer has a solid remembrance of life as a high school student.

Within the first few chapters, I grew to love Ethan's family structure. In addition to his mother and father, he has adorable four-year-old triplet sisters who often force him to play Candy Land and other childhood games—and he kindly (though sometimes a bit reluctantly) complies. Aside from smiling over the triplets' amusing misspeaks and impulsive actions, I was excited to see so many sibling interaction scenes. Positive sibling relationships, especially ones with such a large age gap, don't get enough attention in YA, and as a teenager who has small siblings, I appreciated this older-brother-with-significantly-younger-sisters dynamic. 

On the less-cheerful side, Hattemer also vividly portrays Ethan's intermittent feeling of being forgotten as his parent fawn over his high-maintenance, trouble-making sisters. However, it still appears that Ethan's parents do care, despite being frazzled and absentminded, creating a complex dynamic that may ring true with readers from large-but-loving families. Though not always perfect, Ethan and his family are tangible and realistic, providing emotions that range from comic relief to poignant distance and create ups and downs mirroring real life.

Have you read The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy? If so, what did you think of the quirky cast of characters?


  1. You've got me sold on this! Inaccurate portrayals of high school drive me bonkers, especially since they're so easy to avoid writing. You can find the curriculum of a class with a simple google search!

  2. I like a nice family dynamic and I am all about the quirkiness. Nice review!

  3. I just finished reading the book and your review brought up things I didn't realize like the homework. I think that lots of the book had normal things like that added that made it feel like I was living my life.


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