While the setting is a future Earth that has barely survived the alien invasion and is now peopled with all sorts of interesting mutants and aliens, it bears an astonishing resemblance to the U.S. in the 1950s. There's hot rod racing, drive-in movies, dances and fights with school bullies. But it's a twisted sort of resemblance, in which the lyrics to songs are clearly from an alternate universe (while still being hilariously recognizable).
J!m is the quintessential alienated teen, but he has way more on his plate than any hero from a 1950s teen drama. He has a bulbous head and incredibly oily skin, which he occasionally sheds as he grows. He has an enormous crush on Marie, but he hasn't gotten up the nerve to ask her to the Harvest Hop yet. J!m is by no means unusual at his school: his best friends are Johnny, an overgrown mutant ape, and a gelatinous, girl-crazy blob known as Jelly.
I don't want to give too much away here, so let me tell you that this book continually had me laughing - and reading bits of it out loud to anyone who would listen. The pop culture references alone had me on the floor, from music and politics to the classic science fiction and horror novels and films, and I loved the way J!m (an aspiring filmmaker) tended to view things in terms of movie scripts and camera angles.
While at times I felt that the over-the-top approach and humor made J!m feel a bit less real to me, distancing me from the novel emotionally, I was having too much fun to mind. I leave you with a brief passage from the beginning of the novel that marked the point in my reading at which I sat back, smiled, and settled in to enjoy the ride. J!m's mother, Miw (a cat-like alien), is home alone after Jim (having shed his skin that morning) has headed off to school:
The sound she head, a papery creep, was J!m's ex-skin, making for the door. How many times she had told her son not to leave his sheddings lying around, where they could get into trouble, knocking over garbage cans and smothering dogs. Two years ago one of them had made it into Mrs. Porter's house next door and slipped itself on her while she slept. Mrs. Porter awoke to the horror that her latest whole body tuck had unraveled and gone to rot. Sheriff Ford was alerted, and Mrs. Porter pressed charges, assault by proxy and more sordid accusations the facts did not support, and fifteen-year-old J!m was required to spend two evenings a month at the Manhattan Juvenile Education Center, where he learned how to steal cars.If you think don't think that is funny, you might want to give this one a pass. But if you do, well, you are in for a treat with this funny, intelligent novel. Go, Mutants!
Miw grabbed the molt by the nape. It batted at her weakly as she stripped off the underwear, perfectly good, and fed it into the disinkerator.
It went down kicking, and silently screaming.
Go, Mutants! by Larry Doyle (Ecco, 2010)
Source: review copy (uncorrected proof) from publisher
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The Crotchety Old Fan: "Go Mutants is not only destined to be appearing at a (drive in) theater near you, I expect it’s going to be nominated for not a few awards along the way."
Troll in the Corner: "...if you’re looking for a fun read this summer you’ve found it. You will enjoy Go Mutants! not just for the plot and characters which are both well put together, but also for the shear joy of hunting down references to movies, monsters and SciFi pop-culture."