Source: Random House Children’s Books – I received this book in exchange for an honest review. I received no compensation
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Edition: Hardcover, 192 pages
Purchase: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository*
*I receive a small monetary kickback from Amazon purchases
My Chemical Mountain is a novel that is really hard to accurately describe without focusing on one aspect more than the others. In fact I was asked twice in one day what the book was about and I had think on it. The simple answer: It’s about three boys who grow up in a factory and mill town where a chemical factory is slowly destroying their environment and their lives. The more difficult aspect to capture is the fact that these three boys are so vastly different in how they see their home, how they love it in a different way and how the chemicals have changed their lives.
Jason, our main character, has lost his father to a Mareno Chem accident and he’s seething. He wants revenge and he wants to prove that the company is up to no good. He’s a good kid who has been hurt and he carries a lot of anger in him over the loss of his father, how the town holds the accident against his family, and how his mother has essentially checked out. However he finds a way to channel it with his drawings, where he uses his toxic environment to create monsters and stories. Charlie and Cornpup are his best friends, and they are complete and total opposites. Charlie is a daredevil with a broken home, who boasts over his bravery and finds himself accepted by most people their age but he always remains loyal to his two friends. I had problems with Charlie and I didn’t like the amount of influence he had over Jason. There are a lot of instances where Charlie (and Jason’s following) puts them in danger, and they never seem to see it as a bad thing. Cornpup is the voice of reason of in the group. He’s super cautious about their environment and he tries to get the others to see it as well but they kind of tune him out. He knows how horrible it is to swim in contaminated water or go outside when the air is thick with chemicals, but Charlie and Jason just don’t care. I had a lot of trouble understanding the motivation for continuing activities, like swimming the creek, when it’s clear it’s not healthy (i.e. – rashes appear directly after). The age level is around 15-16, so it’s not quite at that Young Adult level but it’s definitely out of the Middle Grade range.
The town that Vacco creates is a gritty blue collar place called Poxton. It has a ring of abandoned factories and mills, with only a few still running. It also has numerous landfills, one of which is mountainous and extremely toxic. The river is polluted and the soil around it is unclean, even the air is dangerous. The language used to describe everything is very detailed and would be beautiful if the subjects where not toxic and poisoned. I struggled to enjoy the descriptions because at times it just grossed me out. The inspiration behind the book was the fact that there are a disturbing amount of landfills located near schools, and I think the book definitely calls attention to it but it also amplifies it.
My Chemical Mountain is gritty, dark, and showcases some of the reality about landfills and factories. It’s an incredibly short novel and paired with the fact that it’s really well written it serves as a really quick read.