How do trends begin? What moves a personal style quirk from a person to a cultural phenomenon? Apparently, Cool Hunters. This is a job. It sounds both awesome and awful. It’s awsful. Let’s make great things cool. But doesn’t that inherently ruin them? I liked it before it was cool. Ah, I’m trapped in a hipster spiral and this book put me there.
This isn’t the first book I’ve read on cool hunting, but it’s the first one from a teen pov. This perspective change throws the reader right into the thrum of youth culture. Figuring out what brands Hunter’s talking about is usually pretty easy, but there were a few I really that I had to think about. The faux ‘cool’ party with the crazy side effects highlights this crazy obsession that new and exclusive is better. These made the book engaging, but the fun moments only masked the fact that there really wasn’t much of a plot.
This book suffered from Westerfelditis – an unmitigated desire to fit in that overrides everything else in the main character’s life. Yes, “cool” is Hunter’s job, but that is his only driving force. He was uncool when he was younger, so now everything he does is motivated by not wanting to experience that feeling again. I understand that this actually is a motivator for teens, but there has to be something else that drives this kid. Even when he meets Jen and begins to see that maybe there are other options, he’s still trying to find out how to make this perspective cool (little did Westerfeld know about the aforementioned hipster movement on the horizon. Wait, maybe he knows more than I’m giving him credit for… uh oh).
Hunter’s drawn to Jen because she’s an innovator. The fact that she doesn’t have a ‘risk assessment gene’ seems to be what attracts him the most. But in the end, even though he seems to start realizing that maybe there are other options, he sells his bottle jersey collection. On its face, this appears to be because he’s realized he was hanging on to his one moment of true cool. But, to me, it feels like he’s selling them because Jen thought they were lame. She’s right.
These themes tendril out into Westerfeld’s other books. In the Uglies series: Tally only wants to be pretty, then she meets Shay who wants to do something outside the social norms, and she starts to follow her even though she wants what she’s always wanted. Aya wants fame, then she meets Frizz who wants honesty, but Aya still keeps on her same path, unsure why the others don’t want it.
All of the characters seem to want what is socially expected of them. Then they meet someone who doesn’t want those things, and they start to want what that person wants. Then there’s some kind of disagreement between the two characters and the protagonist basically goes back to exactly how they were at the beginning of the book. Growth is not a key component in these books.
Westerfeld’s books are entertaining, but probably more so for younger teens still figuring out who they are. I’ll be leaving his other books to that younger audience and moving back to YA books with a little more oomph.