Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review: My Chemical Mountain by Corina Vacco

Title: My Chemical Mountain
Author: Corina Vacco

Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Length: 192 pages
Original Publishing Date: June 11th, 2013
Where I got it: ARC from ARCycling
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads:

"Rocked by his father's recent death and his mother's sudden compulsion to overeat, Jason lashes out by breaking into the abandoned mills and factories that plague his run-down town. Always by his side are his two best friends, Charlie, a fearless thrill junkie, and Cornpup, a geek inventor whose back is covered with cysts. The boys rage against the noxious pollution that suffocates their town and despise those responsible for it; at the same time, they embrace the danger of their industrial wasteland and boast about living on the edge.

   Then on a night the boys vandalize one of the mills,  Jason makes a costly mistake--and unwittingly becomes a catalyst for change. In a town like his, change should be a good thing. There's only one problem: change is what Jason fears most of all."

Main characters: 3.5/5

I want to take a moment for a mini side-note before I start in on Jason and comment on what I will call the "Middle of the Road MC". Have you ever noticed that a lot of main characters tend to fall in between the two extremes of their best friends? In the case of My Chemical Mountain, Jason falls between the extremes of his two best friends, the cautious Cornpup and the fearless Charlie. I think that this is, in part, in order to make the main character the most easy to relate to for the reader. And I did relate with Jason on a lot of parts. Even though I am an older female reader who hasn't gone through the same experiences, Vacco was able to create a character that I understood and the parts that I didn't understand, she explained to me. Mostly, I was fascinated by Jason's understanding of the landfill. Sometimes it seemed impossible that the boys are so interesting in the industrial wasteland that they literally swim in toxic water and drink it (!!) but Vacco's explanation of their obsession with it is completely unique.

Secondary characters: 3/5

Slightly more entrenched in tropes are Jason's two best friends Charlie and Cornpup. Each fits into the mold of the cautious vs. the fearless and Jason oscillates between the two. I love how the three of them truly compliment each other and I could see some of the depth within Charlie and Cornpup. I was oddly impressed with Jason's mother too. Her reaction to Jason's father's death through overeating was heartbreakingly realistic in the way that people can respond to death and tragedy. There were a couple other minor characters that were slightly less developed that I would have liked more from.

Writing style: 4.5/5
This book read fast. The pacing was surprising given that it wasn't an action novel per se. It helps that the book itself is pretty short, but Vacco moved the writing along well. The dialogue was realistic and Vacco had an oddly beautiful way of describing the waste and industrial dumps. However, these descriptions don't weigh down the pacing but instead allow the reader to get a grotesque image of the industrial wasteland in their head and follow Jason and his friends through their playground.

Plot: 3.5/5
This book was so different from anything I've read! I was nervous that it would come across with a strong message telling the reader what they should believe. What was so unique about My Chemical Mountain was its point-of-view through Jason, whose identity was formed through his time spent exploring this polluted wasteland. Jason has a connection with this environment and it's so interesting to read an issue from this young boy's point of view. The plot itself ran a little thin at times and was mainly kept moving by the boy's excursions through the wastelands, but it gained some structure later in the novel and I felt the book line back up on track. I just want to give a shout out to the setting in Western New York and all of the references to Buffalo sports- I was thrilled to see mentions of my Bills and Sabres. I noticed a lot of people viewing this as a futuristic or dystopian, and I just wanted to point out that I mentioned the book to my dad (who is from Buffalo) and he brought up the neighborhood of Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York. The descriptions may seem impossible for some of us, but this stuff actually happened.

Ending: 3/5

The ending was explosive but it almost seemed a little rushed. The writing was beautiful, as Vacco had already proved earlier, but that last chapter left a few things unfinished and I wanted to know what happened next. I think the final note was sweet and perfect however; it summed up the whole novel.

Best scene: The first time the boys visit the landfill- the descriptions are wonderful

Positives: Beautifully gruesome writing style, pacing, strong characterization, the unique point of view of the landfill

Negatives: Slightly more underdeveloped secondary characters, a little thin on the plot material, rushed ending

Cover: The cover looks like a post-apocalyptic story, so that was a little misleading, however it definitely catches your attention and it's beautiful in its own way.

Verdict: A unique look at pollution and strong characters and writing take this novel beyond being an "environmentalism" story.

Rating: 7.0/10 (4 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

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