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Friday, July 12, 2013
BOOK REVIEW: MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN by Corina Vacco
My Chemical Mountain
A review by Culture’s Child
“We live by the best landfill ever. I flipped my dirt bike there once. Plus I’ve got a sketchbook full of uranium monsters. My friend Cornpup likes to show off the weird bumps on his back for a dollar. And Charlie, he’ll drink red creek water on a dare.”
Frustration and fear are afoot in the nation, and all over the world, as people and planet face the results of corporate greed. My Chemical Mountain (Random House 2013) is the first novel from prize-winning young Green author Corina Vacco, weaving together environmental and social issues in a novel that reaches beyond its Young Adult classification to all readers. The journalistic reviews have been impressive.
She tells the story from the viewpoint of Jason, a teenage artist. Jason and his two best friends from childhood share a love of their roots and their turf, as they discover that all is not well in their hometown. During that transitional summer just before the Freshman year of high school, we learn how a rogue corporation can get away with literal murder, holding a dependent town in its grasp. People suspect that they’re being poisoned, but where do they go? To whom do they go?
This blue collar town’s livelihood is centered on the chemical plant where so many of them work, but housing values have plummeted due to the company’s secretive toxic dumping. Having grown up living next to their “playground” landfill, each of the three boys chooses a different path of resistance, and a different way of coping. Jason, the artist, channels his anger about his father’s “accidental” death by drawing toxic monsters and creating a mythology around their landfill. William, nicknamed, Cornpup, is a tech genius who deals with his ill health by trying to reason logically with authorities. Charlie, coming from a tumultuous home life, is the thrill seeking Golden Boy who takes a path of vigilante justice that comes with a price.
The characters are well developed, each with their foibles, as power players over shadow the kinder more gentle folk of the town, but the book steers clear of the usual cliches. It reminds us that our world is a finite place with only so much fresh water, and such a fragile climate balance. We’re reminded that we all must play our part in defending it. “The truth will set you free” (Jesus of Nazareth) is probably the most valuable quotation ever and it’s been used in many circumstances. As we carry on in this world, the best leaders, artists and authors give us that truth along with insight and hope. The part that we can play, after reading this particular novel, is to share it and its truths with others.
Corina Vacco felt compelled to write about toxic towns after reading an article alleging that hundreds of thousands of children and teens throughout the United States attend schools built on or near dangerously polluted sites. She found the inspiration for this book while living in Western New York, where she heard teachers speak out against a landfill adjacent to an elementary school. A city girl, world traveler, and activist, Corina enjoys playing guitar, listening to the blues, and exploring the great outdoors. She lives in Berkeley, California, with her husband, who is a member of the Coast Guard, and their magnificent puddle-splashing, car-loving little boy. They share their home with one slightly neurotic but very lovable Italian greyhound and a growing collection of books.