Saturday, February 22, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #53: Americus by Reed & Hill

It's not always a pleasant experience, being pandered to. Some books are just so slobbery, so obviously trying to butter you up -- O!M!G! aren't fantasy novels totes awesome! and aren't those nasty Christian types just so sad and lame? -- that you want to edge away from them as quickly as possible, and start to reflexively disagree with them out of pure cussedness.

Americus is well along that path: it's a love letter to the fans of YA fantasy and particularly to teens who feel out of place and awkward in a world they're not sure they like at all. (Which is "all of them," basically.) So it's set in the most stifling, middle-American location imaginable, the title town, located somewhere in the least cosmopolitan precincts of Oklahoma, where the only way to escape is by reading things like "The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde, The Huntress Witch". [1] Our hero is Neil Barton, just leaving middle school and entering high school. and his dreams don't even extend as far as getting out of Americus: he just wants to be left alone and not have to go to school anymore with the usual assortment of bullies and cretins. But when the humorless stereotype evangelical Christian -- seriously, her dialogue has an I-hate-religious-people cliche every third word -- mother of his best friend goes on the warpath against the Ravenchilde books, the culture wars have come to Americus, and Neil will eventually have to stand up for his love of mass-market teen schlock.

Writer MK Reed carefully avoids any hint of nuance or ambiguity: Neil and the other defenders of Ravenchilde are the good people, and anyone who disagrees with them is both stupid and utterly wrong. Adults in particular are lame and wrong-headed, with the only partial exceptions being the practically-a-teen-herself perky young librarian and Neil's mother, who is only mildly embarrassing and adult. Again, this is probably very pleasant to read for teens who want to be told that their tastes are absolutely correct in every sense, but it's pretty thin gruel for anyone else.

Jonathan Hill contributes a slightly cartoony style that's good at differentiating the large cast and includes excellent dynamism of faces, perfect for the many scenes where characters declaim at each other for panels at a time. His work here is entirely exemplary.

But I really can't recommend this to anyone above the age of fifteen or with the slightest tolerance for grey areas; Americus is a book that demands to be clutched to the bosom and loved to death for its brave truth-telling, and most readers will not be able to do that as fervently as the book demands.

[1] Yes, Apathea. No, this does not appear to be ironic or significant in any way. The echo of "apathetic" is purely random.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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