About the Book

Title: The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy
Published: 2014
Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Cover Story: Wannabe Hipster
BFF Charm: Triple Threat
Talky Talk: Adorkable
Bonus Factors: Performing & Visual Arts School, Diversity, Reality TV, Triplets
Relationship Status: Best Buds

Cover Story: Wannabe Hipster

Given its subversive contents, I’d like to think that this cover is pretending to try to be cool rather than actually trying to be cool. It’s making fun of hip clichés, right? It’s in on the joke! WINK.

(Class, that’s what we call wishful thinking.)

The Deal:

For Art’s Sake, a reality TV show, has taken over Selwyn Academy. You might love it, or, like Ethan Andrezejczak and his friends, you might hate it, but everyone watches it, and everyone talks about it, and everyone puts up with the camera crews and fabricated storylines and ridiculous competitions. That is, until The Contracantos. Inspired by the work of Ezra Pound, it’s a long poem penned by Ethan’s friend Luke in protest of the show, which is then printed and distributed in secret. It takes the school by storm, but as with most revolutions, consequences exceed intentions, and Ethan must decide how far he’s willing to go to truly make a change.

Oh yeah, and there’s a gerbil named Baconnaise.

BFF Charm: Triple Threat

Yay BFF Charm

Ethan is NERDTASTIC. He’s awkward and self-deprecating and obsessed with tricolons, which really says it all. Most importantly, he’s hilarious:

Dr. Fern was walking toward me. “Ethan, I have a question. How are you going to get into a good art college if you can’t focus for an hour-long class?”

Dr. Fern, I have an answer. I’m not going to get into a good art college.

He’s my favorite kind of dork, because he’s not an overachiever, nor is he a straight A student. He’s just an intelligent guy with zero self-confidence and a penchant for off-kilter fixations, which I found both endearing and incredibly funny. He’s also the SWEETEST big brother. There were times when his authenticity as a teenage boy made me want to kick him in the shins, but for the most part, he made for a wonderfully compelling underdog.

I also adored the rest of The Contracantos team, with the exception of Luke, who needs to GET OVER HIMSELF. Anyhoo, there’s Elizabeth, the totally fierce straight shooter who doesn’t put up with shizz from anyone, and Jackson, the charmingly eccentric genius. To give you a glimpse of their awesomeness, here’s their potential responses to freeing Ethan from a locker (long story):

Elizabeth is a very competent person. She’d pulverise that lock. However, she would also laugh like a banshee and post pictures online.

Jackson would first feel the need to calculate how many possible combinations there were for a Master-brand padlock. Then he’d formulate an algorithm for the best way to guess the combination. Then he’d start guessing.

Honorable mention goes to Baconnaise, the coolest gerbil in literary history.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

I can’t blame Ethan for mooning over ballerina Maura Heldsman, his fellow classmate and star of For Art’s Sake. She’s intriguing, not to mention gorgeous, and unattainable crushes are what high school hallways are made of. Their interactions are lightly charged and appropriately confusing for poor Ethan, whose internal bumbling makes everything that much cuter. HOWEVER. For reasons I cannot divulge without spoiling the story, he is a HUGE IDIOT when it comes to matters of the heart. HUGE.

In other words, I meant what I said about kicking his shins.

Talky Talk: Adorkable

Debut author Kate Hattemer did a bang-up job with Ethan’s voice. It’s marvelously intimate and instantly captivating, with emotional honesty and wisecracks in perfect harmony. Take Ethan’s reaction after Maura admits that she finds his last name to be “sort of adorable”:

I felt myself go beet-red. Suddenly, I loved my name. Thank you, I thought fervently. Thank you, Slavic forebears, ye heavily into consonants. Ye fans of high-scoring Scrabble tiles. Ye who boldly dropped z’s where no z’s had been dropped before. I appreciate it.

The writing is snappy and clever without being obnoxious about it, while the story’s light-hearted air doesn’t preclude it from exploring deeper issues, such as the loss of innocence that comes with adolescence.

This book also gave me a new phrase that I can’t wait to add to the FYA lexicon: WiTSOOTT (Wikipedia The Shit Out Of That Thing).

Bonus Factor: Performing & Visual Arts School

Clip from the movie Fame, with kids dancing in the cafeteria

Ethan likes to make fun of it, because he’s a teenager, and that’s what teenagers do, but Selwyn Academy is pretty rad. Like, I would have KILLED to go there when I was younger. Each day, there’s Morning Practice, when students get to practice their preferred art, which means you can spend 90 minutes dancing or drawing or playing an instrument. Uh, that sounds a helluva lot more fun than Morning Study Hall.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

Faces of all different races, ethnicities and genders.

Elizabeth is half white and half black, and this is just a fact, not a plot point. Plus, she’s got really great dreads. (And, knowing how I usually feel about dreads, that should tell you how much I dug her character.)

Bonus Factor: Reality TV

Screenshot from Jersey Shore, with Snooki on a duck-shaped phone

Don’t tell Ethan & Company, but I would SO watch For Art’s Sake. It’s a contest in which the most talented popular students compete for a massive scholarship and the title of America’s Best Teen Artist, so yeah, it’s like my DREAM SHOW. Really, though, it’s the behind the scenes action that made for excellent entertainment. And I learned about frankenbiting!

Bonus Factor: Triplets

Ethan is the big brother to four-year-old triplet girls, and they are BANANAS. I need to play Candyland with them immediately. As Ethan put it:

Sometimes I envy those girls. It must be fun to be part of a living, breathing tricolon.

Relationship Status: Best Buds

I hit it off immediately with this book, thanks to its engaging personality and insanely nerdy interests. Whether it’s cracking my shizz up or talking on the real about life, this book clicks with me on every level, and even if we hung out 24/7, we’d never get tired of each other.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Random House Children’s Books. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). The Poets of Selwyn Academy is available now.

Sarah lives in Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.