Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

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I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**      = Enjoyable
*        = Good, with reservations

   cover

*****Feed

by M. T. Anderson

Reviewed March 14, 2003.
Candlewick Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2002.  237 pages.
2003 Boston Globe-Horn Book Fiction and Poetry Honor Book
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003:  #1, Young Adult and Children's Science Fiction

I’m going to be urging this novel on everyone I know for awhile.  Not my usual “feel good” favorite, this is a hard-hitting satire of consumerism in America.  This is my sure pick for next year’s Michael L. Printz Award for Young Adult literature, without even having any idea what else will come out this year.

Set in the future, everyone now has a brain implant hooked up to the “feed.”   The feed gives and takes a constant stream of data, telling you all the latest fashions and marketing to you things you’d be sure to like.  The feed is a combination of TV, virtual reality games, cell phones, the Internet and computers.  It’s all there, connected directly to your brain.

The author carries off the story perfectly.  It’s told in the point of view of Titus, a rich, bored teenager.  On the moon, Titus meets a girl who’s different.  She doesn’t go to School ™, but is home schooled by her Dad, who is a professor of dead languages, like FORTRAN.  Violet didn’t even get her feed until she was seven.  She makes him feel stupid with her big words and crazy ideas about what’s going on in the world.  He finds himself wanting to know her better, and he plays along with her attempts to resist the feed.

The satire is beautifully subtle.  Titus tells us that everyone is smarter now.  “That’s one of the great things about the feed--that you can be supersmart without ever working.  Everyone is supersmart now.  You can look things up automatic like science and history, like if you want to know which battles of the Civil War George Washington fought in and shit.”  That’s what Titus says, but we can easily see that people are losing their ability to use language.  Examples of songs and broadcasts are ungrammatical and trite.  The most popular feedcast is called Oh?  Wow!  Thing!  Violet notices that Titus is the only one of his friends who uses metaphor.  He doesn’t understand what she means.

The funniest example of the poverty of the language is a speech given by the President explaining why American industry is not responsible for the lesions everyone is getting.  The speech is ungrammatical and barely coherent.  Why does it sound so uncannily familiar?

The book is full of great details.  They visit a filet mignon farm, growing red slabs of pulsing beef.  Titus enjoys it because he likes “to see how things are made.”  I like the invented slang, as it seems to fit perfectly and you can readily understand it.  Titus wasn’t “so skip” as he flew over the surface of the moon.  Later on he gets a “brag” new upcar.  The author says on the back flap that he listened to teen cell phone conversations in malls.  He got the voice exactly right.

My readers will have noticed by now that I don’t usually like a lot of profanity in a book.  In the case of What Should I Do With My Life? it detracted from the serious message of the book.  In the case of Jester, it was overdone.  Feed is full of profanity, but in this case the book wouldn’t be nearly as effective without it.  The use of profanity underlines the poverty of language in this future society.  M. T. Anderson perfectly captures the voice of a teen of the future who has a brain but doesn’t know how to use it.

My fifteen-year-old son finished the book last night, and we had a great discussion about it.  He was as impressed as I was, and a little harder hit.  He had the insightful comment that dystopian novels are written about the present, even when they are set in the future.  He enjoyed a chance to read such a book in the time for which it was written.  (1984 and 1948 were a long time ago.)  In other words, this book is written for teens of today, and it is completely on target.

My son and I both believe that this book is destined to be required reading in high school English classes as soon as the teachers and the education system figure out what a classic it is.

Like all great science fiction, this book deals with ideas.  It makes us see more clearly than a “realistic” novel ever could.  Catherine Crier’s book, The Case Against Lawyers, is an on-target assessment of some problems with American society.  Feed, by pointing out problems in the form of a novel, hits much harder.

Even though this book paints a grim picture, the love story between Titus and Violet adds warmth to the book.  They are well-drawn and far more likable than, say, the main characters in 1984.  The subtle humor kept me chuckling throughout the whole book and occasionally I'd make innocent bystanders listen to clever passages.

My son did convince me that we should shelve this book in the adult section.  Targeted for teens, it is completely inappropriate for younger kids.  (We don’t have a young adult section.)  Adults will definitely enjoy it, and the teens it’s written for will be more apt to find it on the adult shelves.  Highly recommended!

Reviews of other books by M. T. Anderson:
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume I, The Pox Party
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume II, The Kingdom on the Waves
Symphony for the City of the Dead
Whales on Stilts!
The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen
Strange Mr. Satie

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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