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Big Picture
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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

Feed; by M. T. Anderson
Candlewick, 2002 [240p]
ISBN 0-7636-1726-1 $16.99
Gr. 7-12

Despite the title, this isn't a sequel to the author's Thirsty (BCCB 4/97); it's a compelling, witty, and seductive dystopia about life in a technocorporate-ruled future. Titus is a basic teenager, annoyed by School™ and ready to enjoy a trip with his friends to that traditional break destination, the moon, "except the moon turned out to completely suck." Okay, not completely-he does meet Violet, a strange and beautiful girl, but she, Titus, and his friends all undergo a rather traumatic experience when a hacker hits their feeds, their brain-implanted connections that make information, marketing, entertainment, and private conversation available to them twenty-four hours a day.

After a few days in a moon hospital, Titus grows closer to Violet, and when the kids return to Earth, the two begin going out. He's drawn to her unusual viewpoint and intrigued by her atypical history: a child of impoverished academics, she didn't get her feed installed until much later in life, and she writes with her hand and thinks about what happens in other countries. The feed oddity proves to be particularly significant, because the hacking damages Violet's less-integrated circuitry, leaving her increasingly prone not just to signal blockage but to serious neurological deficits, disorders that may well kill her. Highly skilled technical repair might save her, but her unpredictable consumer history makes her an unreliable investment in the eyes of the corporate sponsors; therefore no help will be forthcoming, and Violet will die.

The dystopic view here isn't limited to the world, however; the tragedy isn't Titus' raging against the system that kills his beloved but his resistance to such raging. Titus is a Winston Smith drawn to the possibility of life beyond the screens, but he's essentially a lover of Big Brother (or, more accurately, Big Brother's products) from the start, annoyed by the predictable criticisms of the naysayers: "Of course, everyone is like, da da da, evil corporations, oh they're so bad, we all say that, and we all know they control everything. I mean, it's not great, because who knows what evil shit they're up to. Everyone feels bad about that. But they're the only way to get all this stuff, and it's no good getting pissy about it, because they're still going to control everything whether you like it or not." As Violet deteriorates, Titus becomes increasingly annoyed with her Cassandra tendencies, eventually separating from her and the possibilities she offers and tellingly thinking at her death, "I had thought it would feel like a tragedy, but it didn't feel like anything at all." As with many classic dystopias, the message isn't subtle, but it's not meant to be; it's the lacerations close to the bone (sometimes literally, as with the fad for surgically created lesions to mimic the skin condition afflicting popular media stars) that give this book its bite.

What really puts the teeth in the bite, however, is Anderson's brilliant satiric vision in the seamless creation of this imagined but believable world. The writing is relentlessly funny, clever in its observations and characters and not just in its inventiveness, but it's also inventive indeed, with Titus' narration establishing a new yet familiar language in a manner reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange. The familiar raised inflections have officially become questions with no actual queries, businesses issue edicts in phraseology straight out of Clueless ("We regret to inform you that our corporate investors were like, 'What's doing with this?'"), and parents use the old-fashioned "Dude" rather than the up-to-date "Unit." The details of Titus' world are dead-on credible, just one step beyond the present while clearly built on it. Readers will snicker about the shirt sale at "Wetherbee & Crotch" ("except it only came in sand, persimmon, and vetch") and the hot feedcast drama (called Oh? Wow! Thing!, it "has all these kids like us who do stuff but get all pouty"), all the while recognizing the roots of the grimmer side of Titus' present in their own.

It's this vision that cunningly allows the book to be cool while questioning the consumer pursuit of coolness. When Titus finally hears a faint echo of the emptiness that Violet tried to warn him of, he muses, "It was like I kept buying these things to be cool, but cool was always flying just ahead of me, and I could never exactly catch up to it. I felt like I'd been running toward it for a long time." It's fitting for a dystopia--and a particularly cynical one at that--that the closest thing to hope is this breath of discontent. Pessimistic teens will find that darkness appealing; optimists will be startled to discover that a book about raging against the machine can be so much fun.

Deborah Stevenson, Editor

Big Picture Image

Cover illustration from Feed ©2002, by M. T. Anderson. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.

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This page was last updated on November 1, 2002.