by Scott Westerfeld
Reviewed by Alisa Krasnostein
Currently I'm in a Scott Westerfeld state of mind. In fact, he's rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors. I've just finished So Yesterday which Tansy suggested I read since she mentioned it in the Shiny Submission Guidelines and all.
What I love most about Westerfeld is his writing style. It's laid back and affable but it's intimate – he makes you feel as though the narrator is in direct dialogue with you, the reader. You never feel removed or set back from the action. Perhaps that's why I so often find myself sitting down for just 10 minutes of reading and surfacing 50 pages or more later. Reading his work is effortless and a pleasure.
Westerfeld doesn't talk down to his (intended) audience – his characters are you adults but he doesn't balk from using grown up material and language. Westerfeld also tends to use interesting and adult topics around which he writes his YA plots. In a world where young adults mature faster than ever before, Westerfeld shows himself to be in touch with his audience. Whilst his characters still struggle with the familiar YA issues – coming of age, first loves and discovery of identity and place in the world – they do so very mature scenarios. Westerfeld writes with such a likeable sense of humour that its hard not to find yourself smiling at offhanded, throwaway asides. Finally, his books are smart, the plots driven by clever devices and I always finish a Westerfeld novel in some way smarter than when I started it. I like that he writes intelligently and uses facts to inform in a fun and fascinating way.
So Yesterday, as hinted at by the title, is about "cool" and the manufacturing of "cool". Hunter lives in New York City and is a cool hunter – that's someone who is hired to find out what will be the next cool fad. How does he do it? He looks out for "innovators" – those people in society who just *are* cool. These are the people who invent. They invent the new gadgets and gimmicks, new ways of doing things or wearing things. Hunter is employed by "The Client" to find these on-the-verge-of-being-fads – like shoe styles, ways of wearing a cap, the new must-have mobile – so that they can commercialise it and profit off it. Just as Hunter meets and falls for Jen, an innovator who he discovers for the way she laces her shoes, his boss, Mandy, mysteriously disappears. Hunter and Jen embark on an utterly cool New York City adventure of a lifetime to get to the bottom of who abducted Mandy and why.
A couple of years ago I saw a documentary made for MTV on this very subject. It looked at the way large corporations seek out to find sub culture before it becomes pop culture and repackage it and serve it back up to consumers as their subculture. Examples in the documentary included the Pepsi Top 10 Video Hits and the Mountain Dew sponsored Pop Album launch parties. It kind of reminds me of the hangers-on at parties that somehow become part of the event. You don't really remember inviting them but you can't forget that they were there. An important part of culture jamming (that's when you subvert the adoption of some fad) is pointing out to consumers how they are being subliminally manipulated into consuming. This documentary did that for me at the time and So Yesterday worked to reinforce those ideas.
Throughout the book, the narrator refuses to label name drop, preferring to refer to labels and products in several worded descriptions. This tool works to bring the reader along and feel part of it. "Oh yes!" you think, as you recognise references to Nike, the Matrix movie franchise and so on. And it serves to make you feel ... well ... cool. That is, of course, until the culture jammers come into play. And you realise both in real life and in So Yesterday that your brand recognition is a manipulative play to make you consume what you think is cool and what you think is cool is because you feel a part of some kind of (manufactured) cool movement. Because as we all know, the truly cool are those riding the crest of the cool wave – the innovators. The rest of us are well, merely adopters.
This book is going on my 2007 list of Really Really Good Books I read. It was a quick and enjoyable read which made me think about who I am in society and what and why I consume the products that I do.