Sometime last year, I read a little known YA novel called My Chemical Mountain. To be honest, the title caught my attention because of its similarity to the band name My Chemical Romance. I wasn’t quite sold given the blurb below, but I loved the cover so thought I’d give it a try anyway.
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.
While I have read many disaster-apocalypse novels and a good few dystopians, this was first foray into ‘ecopunk,’ in that the book explores the consequences of pollution, corporate indifference and the effects of industrial waste on the environment. This story has stuck with me not least of all because of the grim, gritty, dark world the story is set in. This is neither a true post-apocalyptic nor a real dystopian story, but rather portrays the reality for many existing industrial towns right now. This is a very scary reality indeed, albeit exaggerated for the sake of fiction, and in many ways reminded me of the Chernobyl disaster and how the surrounding area was and is still affected by radiation today. Oh how I’d love to read a novel set in that vicinity!
What I truly loved about this story, and found so refreshing, was the all-boy main cast when having a strong, female lead is usually prerequisite for any YA novel. Along with the all-male cast, the emphasis in this novel is most certainly on male friendship instead of romance, which is also rare in YA. While I did appreciate this different approach, I must admit that at times this book felt more MG than YA because it was lacking certain tropes I’ve come to expect from YA. I think this novel might appeal more to younger readers, especially boys around the 10-13 age, but can be enjoyed by adults as well. Not that who the target audience should be really matters given how engaging these characters are. There was something so charming about Charlie’s reckless confidence, something endearing about Cornpup’s righteousness and something just undeniably lovable about Jason’s compassion – these are all characters I’ll definitely have a hard time forgetting. While the plot is rather straight forward without many twists or turns, I found the boys’ struggle against their toxic environment and the corporations that govern their lives totally compelling and alarming.
If you’re looking for a short, sci-fi light read with a refreshing focus on boys, friendship and the power one individual can have against a tyrant, then I strongly recommend this book! My Chemical Mountain gets 4/5 ink splats from me.