This young adult novel was a welcome relief from the dystopian futures and epic trilogies that I’ve been reading, but the issue of threes does come up. Ethan Andrezejszak is a student at a Minneapolis high school for the arts and thanks to his English teacher, he has become enamored with the tricolon, a rhetorical device that involves a list of three elements such as “I came, I saw, I conquered.” This rhetorical trinity not only represents his three best friends at school—Luke, Elizabeth, and Jackson—but his siblings at home—the four-year-old triplets, Olivia, Lila, and Tabitha, who suck the attention and the life out of his parents but in an adorable way. Ethan continues to use the tricolon as he attempts to start this story three different ways. A story that is “about reality TV, a desperate crush on a ballerina, and a heroic gerbil named Baconnaise” (5).
Ethan and his friends are fed up with the fact that their junior year at Selwyn Academy is being ruined by a reality TV series, entitled “For Art’s Sake” that has chosen their school and a group of Selwyn students (not them) to compete for the title, “America’s Best Teen Artist.” Ethan especially is dismayed by the way they are portraying Maura, an aspiring ballerina, who he harbors a crush for and who he learns is desperate to win so she can afford to attend Julliard. Luke, who is the leader of this small band of rebels, comes up with the idea of writing a subversive long form poem, skewering the series and secretly distributing it to the student body. They are reading Ezra Pound in English class and are inspired by his cantos.
With the help of Elizabeth and Jackson, Luke and Ethan pull off this top secret operation but the results are not what any of them expect. Friendships are betrayed, new loves are discovered, and a gerbil named after a condiment may be needed to save the day.
I thought that Kate Hattemer created a realistic high school world and a great teen voice in Ethan. My only quibble is that I didn’t get a strong feel for Minneapolis in the book; it could have been set anywhere. Still that’s a small issue in a book that is smart, funny, and touching.