December 15, 2006

Arctic Pepperoni

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction, and was reviewed earlier by a.fortis.

Pete Hautman's Rash presents a darkly humorous dystopian future where everything is ... safe.
It's hard to imagine a place of safety as a dystopia, instead of as the happiest place on earth, but it is dystopian -- because safety doesn't necessarily connote freedom, or fun.

Sixteen-year-old Bo, who in his protective shoes, knee pads, elbow pads, neck brace, tooth guard, wrist monitor and sports helmet loves to run on his school's padded indoor court, isn't doing that well with fitting into the world he knows, but he blames it on his genes -- his Dad and older brother have all been sent away to work camps for losing their tempers. Even with the emotionally suppressing drugs they have to take, the Marsten men make gestures, raise their voices, and Bo's brother even got into a fistfight at an unauthorized graduation party. He's doing three years for that because he was a still a minor. Dad got five years for the road rage incident.

Anyway, it's probably just as well. Prison labor makes everything move in this new world order -- after all, 24% of the adult population is in prison, and without that labor pool, society would collapse. And, since genes are everything, and really, free will isn't that big an issue, Bo knows it won't be long before he is following in their footsteps, his mother wet-eyed and wailing, and his grandfather, a cynical old man born in 1990 who is wistful about a past that includes such things as legal french fries and jail for things like murder and drugs, scowling and muttering along behind them.

And sure enough, following the fallout from a verbal brushup with his arch-nemesis at school, Karlohs Mink, the work camp Bo is sent to introduces him to tundra, arctic cold, polar bears, and pizza. It's the McDonald's Rehabilitation and Manufacturing conglomorate that specializes in "hand-made" pizza for the hoi polloi, since it's retro-popular this year. Bo is also introduced to organized thugs, a criminally negligent warden, and a sport so violent it's illegal in the new world order. Realizing that no one really cares what happens to him gives Bo the time to think about his life -- and that just might be his salvation. The conclusions Bo reaches about his life and his society make this a shrewd look at our own current society, and might give readers some surprises. With Bo's quirky, rouge AI, some relentlessly bad food and some truly scary polar bears, Hautman leaves his readers with new ways to think about personal responsibility, self control, and the options they have on how to live their lives.

2 comments:

a. fortis said...

I wondered what you'd think of this one! I reviewed it a while ago and definitely found it to be thought-provoking.

tanita s. davis said...

I loved Hautman's novel, but I wanted to know "what happened next?" I was actually quite irate that the story ended with such a tantalizingly open-ending!!