Sunday, September 15, 2013

Might Be Contagious for the Right Audience

by Pete Hautman
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
3 Out of 5 Stars

My immediate thought after finishing Rash: Huh. For it is a peculiar novel. And I'm still not entirely sure what to say about it. I enjoyed it, but didn't love it. However, I think its target audience would love it. That audience is teen and preteen boys, and heaven (aka Barnes and Noble) knows there aren't enough books out there for them. 

The novel is set in the not too distant future of the United States, which is now known as the USSA (United Safer States of America). In this dystopian-lite future, anything that is dangerous to one's safety has been outlawed: no drinking, no smoking, no contact sports, no fast food, no foul language. Children can't play outside without the appropriate safety gear. Most of the populace is taking a cocktail of drugs to maintain their health and well-being (including Levulor, which dampens the instinct toward anger). The reason for the emphasis on safety is that it has significantly increased the lifespan of the average human. The trade-off is that one really can't enjoy that extra-long life. (And if you think this future is a ridiculous hypothesis, look at national, state, and city legislation attempting to yank toys out of Happy Meals, make walking and using an electronic device illegal, implement Body Mass Index requirements at public schools, etc.)

In this society, even the most minor of infractions can be a criminal offense that sends you to a prison work farm. These work farms perform the potentially "dangerous" (by this futuristic society's standards) jobs no one else wants to do. They produce goods and produce, and they also maintain the nation's infrastructure. Bo Marsten's famously short-tempered family knows this first hand: his father (convicted of road rage) works at a shrimp farm and his brother works on a road crew. It's only a matter of time before Bo's own temper gets the better of him and he's sent to a production facility in the arctic that is run by a football fanatic who arranges illegal sporting events for his own entertainment. Because of Bo's ability to run faster than anyone else, it isn't long before he's recruited to the team and learns first hand what pain really feels like.

There are a lot of draws here for teenage boys: very short chapters, rapid fire pacing, frequent changes in topic (you'd almost think Hautman himself is ADD as frequently as events and settings change), a futuristic society whose ridiculousness makes it simultaneously frightening and funny, and, of course, football. 

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