Cover of My Chemical Mountain by Corina Vacco. Three shadowy boys stand in front of a hug pile of trash, with industrial chimneys in the background

About the Book

Title: My Chemical Mountain
Published: 2013

Cover Story: Because It’s There
Drinking Buddy: Bottled Water
Testosterone Level: I Love the Smell of Napalm in the Morning
Talky Talk: Mr. Burns’s Eviler Cousin
Bonus Factors: Cover Up, Eating Disorder
Bromance Status: The Guys From the Little Town I Left and Never Came Back

Cover Story: Because It’s There

This is one of those neat covers that wraps around to the back. A book about three boys and a landfill, and there it is. Not only does the cover reflect the story, but we got that symbolism junk going on: the mountain of trash representing the evil company the boys are up against. The struggle they must endure. The summit to be reached. Or maybe it’s the literal pile of trash where the boys race their dirt bikes.

The Deal:

Fourteen-year-old Jason lives in the aptly-named town of Poxton, which is implied to be in western Pennsylvania. This place has everything: a creek that sometimes catches fire, the prettiest landfill on the eastern seaboard, abandoned and rotting industrial structures, weird trucks that only move at night, a patch of earth that’s always cold, and a convenient commute to Buffalo.

Mareno Chemical owns the town, and people are happy for it. They’re the ones who dole out the jobs, and if anyone’s got a problem with that, they can move the plant to Ohio.

Jason and his friends Charlie and Cornpup like living in Poxton. They’ve dug out a secret hideout in the old bunkers, they’re resentful when the EPA threatens to fence off the creek (it’s okay to swim when the water is red, but not when it smells), and digging for treasure in the dump, which is slowly taking over the town. Jason is an artist, Charlie is an athlete, Cornpup is an inventor. Life is good.

Except when it’s not. There’s something not quite right about Mereno Chem. Like do the strange barrels they bury have anything to do with Cornpup’s webbed toes, asthma, and purple growths? And while the boys’ collection of mutated animal corpses is cool, you can only find so many conjoined birds before you get that unsettling feeling.

And Jason’s dad. He used to work for the plant. He accused them of developing a strange, unpronounceable chemical. He threatened to go public.

His safety equipment failed. He literally melted. Now Jason is alone, his family is considered a bunch of troublemakers, and his mother is killing herself with food.

Jason wants revenge. And he’s going to start with Dan Beneke, his father’s former boss. The one who covered up his dad’s death. And maybe even arranged it.

Jason and his friends are starting high school in the fall. But for now, it’s one crazy summer. Mareno Chem is gonna burn! Well, it’s always kind of burning, but this time it’s serious.

Drinking Buddy: Bottled Water

Two pints of beer cheersing

I really liked this trio. Cornpup, who builds robots in his spare time but cannot get his family to chip in for his reconstructive surgery. Our narrator Jason, who is both disgusted and worried about his mother’s overeating and who finds that both a psycho bully and a cute girl have their sights set on him. But the one I really liked was Charlie. Charlie, the football star who drinks the creek’s red water for kicks and who gets repeatedly pounded by his father. Charlie, who mocks Jason, ‘borrows’ money from him, and is excited about breaking into the chemical plant. Not out of conviction, he just likes to break things.

But Charlie is not a one-dimensional thickhead. He’s loyal. He’s tough. And when things get bad, he’s the one who’s going to lead the charge.

Testosterone Level: I Love the Smell of Napalm in the Morning

For three guys just out of junior high, they act pretty badass. They break into the Mereno Offices, secretly watch the clandestine dumping, and arrange a ‘pollution tour’ for the younger kids (kind of a haunted hayride meets nature walk). Cornpup shows off his deformed back at a town council meeting and Jason enjoys his first kiss. I like these kids, even though they’re dumb enough to go wading through toxic slime.

And Jason has a lot of impotent anger that he channels into his art. But one of these days…one of these days, Mr. Beneke…

Talky Talk: Mr. Burns’s Eviler Cousin

Dan Beneke is just short of being a stock villain. He mocks the boys’ efforts, laughs about the death of Jason’s father, and drives a Lexus. In a town with spiking cancer rates like Poxton, you’d think this guy would play things a little closer to the vest.

Then again, this is a short (182 page) book, and the main characters are just out of junior high. Kids who’ll like this book don’t want to read about environmental impact reports or PPM dioxin readouts. Maybe the book is slightly over the top, but it works in YA. And might make readers start wondering where all the stuff that gets thrown away or flushed down the drain finally winds up.

Bonus Factor: Cover Up

Blinky, the three-eyed fish from The Simpsons

There is a lot of cloak and dagger spying in this book. For instance, the three boys break into the main offices of the chemical building: Cornpup to collect evidence, Jason to get revenge, and Charlie…well, for the hell of it. This will have high appeal to kids who like action, suspense, and kids trashing an authority figure’s office.

Bonus Factor: Eating Disorder

A fork with a tape measure wrapped around it

After her husband dies, Jason’s mother falls apart. And she starts trying to fill the hole in her life with food. That’s all she does. Ever free moment she spends stuffing her face with junk food or sleeping. She misses her son’s eighth grade graduation because she’s out getting pizza.

Jason is disgusted, but he’s more worried. How can he save his mother from eating herself to death?

Damn you, Mereno Chemical!

Bromance Status: The Guys From the Little Town I Left and Never Came Back

This book and I had some good times, but I’ve moved on. I liked the time I spent reading it, but I’m not going back for the class reunion. Hell, half my classmates are dead anyway.

FTC full disclosure: Free copy from Delacorte. No payoff, though.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.