Rating: 2 out of 5
BEWARE: SPOILER ALERT!
I’ve been dreading writing this review as much as I was excited to read the book. I even blogged my ode to Davey Havok just to ensure the skeptics that I’m still a devoted fan of his.
But Pop Kids definitely tested that devotion.
Why you ask? Let’s sweat the small stuff first, then build up to the real issues, shall we?
1. Grammar Nazis, get out your red pens. Rumor has it that Pop Kids is self-published behind a vanity press. You all know how I feel about that, but I’m not about to dwell on whether it’s true.
However, I can see why this assumption holds weight. Now don’t chuck your books at me, but perhaps it’s because the majority of self-published books lack the amount of talent that it takes to compete in the industry. But even if there were many professionals involved in the editing and publishing process, I’d be surprised, because there were too many typos for Pop Kids to pass inspection. Miley Sirus? Vanessa Hudgins? Come on, if you’re going to write a novel about society’s obsession with pop culture, at least spell celebrities’ names correctly! That’s just lazy.
2. This book is 95% pornography. And not in a good way. Pop Kids is 320 pages and 70 chapters, and only a handful of chapters don’t contain any sexual behavior. That fact itself wouldn’t bother me if this book had been marketed as erotica. It shouldn’t, however, because erotica implies sex with substance. The whole plot revolves around Michael “Score” (short for Scorsese) Massi as he channels his passion for cinema by hosting Premiere parties in an abandoned hotel for his closest friends, whom he dubs the “Filmgreats.”
It starts off innocent with a showing of “The Breakfast Club,” but you know how it goes when you’re “watching a movie.” The parties rapidly devolve into full-blown orgies, topped off with plenty of drinking and drug use. Eventually, Score exchanges his cult classics for the latest Jenna Jameson and Sasha Grey skin flicks. Word starts traveling through the high school grapevine, and more people crash in on the craziness.
I’m no prude, but there’s nothing sexy about these scenes. Everyone is so wasted that in one chapter a girl freaks out when she gets a bloody nose after snorting too much coke. Clearly, under such intoxication, consent isn’t as enthusiastic as it could be. After so much objectification, you just come away from the book feeling dirty. And talk about monotonous! Pop Kids could have been half as long and the point, however pointless, could still have been made.
3. There’s very few redeeming qualities to this story. I understand that liking the protagonist is not a requirement for good writing, so I’m okay with the fact that Score is a self-absorbed, obnoxious, pretentious waste of oxygen. He worships Morrissey but doesn’t know who Johnny Marr is. He cares way too much about designers and brands, to the point where I wondered whether San Pellegrino paid Davey for all the references.
It’s easy to say that Score’s just a teenager and excuse his overblown sense of importance. However, I find Score and his equally annoying friends disconcerting because their hypocrisy is actually dangerous. Score goes around burning churches, thus breaking the law, destroying property, and giving atheists a bad rep. He touts a straight-edge lifestyle, refusing to drink or do drugs, but he has no problem with substance abuse if it gets girls to take their clothes off. The Filmgreats engage in a ton of sexual activity, but won’t wear condoms because it’s “so ’90s.” What?! Oh sure, it’s all fun and games until someone gets pregnant. Not joking, two of the girls did.
I’m disgusted by how nonchalant all these people are when it comes to really serious issues. At one Premiere party, a teacher invites himself to the festivities, and at another a boy is supposedly murdered. Any of these disasters would cause a normal person to cease and desist, but what’s Score’s actual final straw before he burns down the venue of debauchery? His crush was not as pure as she said she was. Boo flippin’ hoo.
4. Satire is not a get-out-of-bad-writing free card. I know that there’s plenty of people out there who want to scream in my face, “You don’t GET it! It’s SATIRE!!!”
To those defenders, first off, pump the brakes, cool your jets, slow your roll, and any other calm-down-cliche. I know that it’s satire. I majored in literature, so I’m not stupid. I’m a book nerd, not a book n00b.
But it’s not good satire. Writing satire does not give you the liberty to ignore the essential elements of storytelling. Characters must be multidimensional, plots need the right sense of pacing, and the criticism excels when it is nuanced rather than over-the-top.
Aristophanes, Voltaire, Pope, Twain, Swift–these are a few of the greatest satirists because their mockery provided a call-to-action; their works packed so much intellectual impact that they incited societal change.
“A Modest Proposal” took the gruesome concept of eating infants to grab England’s attention toward Irish poverty. The dystopian classics Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, and 1984 created outrageously oppressive governments to address political corruption and societal apathy.
I could go on about better comparisons, but I feel that the reason that they’re such powerful satires is that they can stand alone from satire. Without considering any deeper meanings, they’re–at their very core–examples of fantastic writing.
Despite its attempt with flowery prose, Pop Kids isn’t deep, although it gives off the impression that it’s trying so hard to be. And even if you’re purposely looking for a light read, it’s superficial and sad, not sexy and fun.
But you know what? I didn’t. If we’re being totally honest here, my adoration of Davey is the only reason that Pop Kids managed to get two whole stars out of me. But just like I can complain about my government and still be a damn proud American, I can be disappointed by a book and still love its author.
So bring on the hate mail if you must. Scathing comments aren’t going to hurt more than falling off the pedestal on which I put this novel. Supposedly, it’s part one of a trilogy, and now I’m facing the dilemma of deciding whether reading the sequels would be the actions of a die-hard fan or a delusional masochist.
In the meantime, I’ll be psyching myself up by listening to AFI and reminding myself that Davey is capable of pure poetry.
“I was too touched to see you clearly, far too young to realize, I had loved so dearly, you whose world I had designed, but the sweet smoke came with mirrors, and it brought tears to my wide eyes.”