Josh Swensen is not your average 17-year-old. At the age of two, he was figuring out algebraic equations with colored magnetic numbers. He is a prodigy who only wants to make the world a better place. Josh's wish comes true when his virtual alter ego, Larry, becomes a huge media sensation. Larry has his own Web site where he posts sermons on anti-consumerism and has a large following of adults and teens. Meanwhile, Larry's identity is a mystery to everyone. While it seems as if the whole world is trying to figure out Larry's true identity, Josh feels trapped inside his own creation. What will happen to the world, and to Larry, if he is exposed?
"Gr. 7-10.The frame story is intriguing: a teenager encounters Tashjian in a grocery store. He knows she's a writer and hands her a bundle of typed pages. At first she demurs, but then she agrees to help facilitate its publication. And why not? Josh Swensen, or "Larry" as he's known around the world, has an amazing story to tell. Recorded on an old manual typewriter (as shown by the text's typeface), the tale begins as something of a lark. Josh fancies himself a philosopher; he's undeniably bright, and he wants to change the world. Using the pseudonym Larry, he posts sermons against consumerism on a Web site, hoping to get some hits from kindred spirits. His message takes off with frightening speed: he's soon getting thousands of hits a day. Josh is determined to keep his identity a secret, even from Beth, his best friend and the girl he has loved since the sixth grade. Ironically, although Beth has never shown a romantic interest in Josh, she is quite taken with Larry. Larry clubs are springing up around the country, and Beth starts a group to discuss his writings. The movement snowballs. Even Bono, the anti-globalization rock star from U2, lauds Larry and organizes a Woodstock-like festival in honor of his pure vision for the future. But trouble lurks in the form of "betagold," the e-mail moniker of a woman out to uncover Larry's identity. She does, and Josh's hellish visions about consumerism and celebrity become his personal nightmare. Killing himself seems to be his only way out, but after he fakes his own death, the nightmare grows even darker. Tashjian does something very fresh here, which will hit teens at a visceral level. She takes the natural idealism young people feel, personalizes it in the character of Josh/Larry, and shows that idealism transformed by unintended consequences. The book's frank discussion about topics paramount to kids--celebrity worship, consumerism, and the way multinational corporations shape our lives--is immediate, insightful, and made even more vivid because it's wrapped in the mystery of Larry. Overall, the concept, structure, and themes are superior to the writing. Still, Josh and his family, friends, and admirers seem real, and that's hard to pull off since they are roaming around a timely allegory. The plot, too, glides along smoothly with a surprise around every corner. There are a few over-the-top spots. Josh's mother is dead, but he still "speaks" to her at the place she loved best--the cosmetics counter at Bloomingdales. His stepfather, Peter, conveniently works for an ad agency, thus giving Josh/Larry access to secret advertising campaigns that allow him to legitimize his writings and eventually alienate his stepfather. The book's worst character is Peter's girlfriend, an acquisitive airhead who spends her time and money collecting plates, ties, anything with the image of Humpty Dumpty. She is stereotype writ large. There's plenty in this story that is larger than life, but in important ways. Josh opens the chapters of his book with quotes from the New Testament, and it's not a stretch that he sees himself as a messiah figure, as do many others. The biblical images, carefully chosen, juxtapose interestingly with the clear-eyed view of contemporary culture and the questions it raises: What do people need to live happy lives? Can any mass movement really be good? Is decency always so easily perverted? Maybe discussion groups really will spring up to consider the gospel according to Larry. As Tashjian shows, there's plenty to talk about. --Ilene Cooper"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review:
"A highly intelligent 17-year-old takes on a pseudonym and starts a Web site that rants against consumer culture. As his popularity grows and his identity becomes impossible to hide, he is forced to reevaluate his medium for instigating change. "A funny, thoughtful novel that takes on some sophisticated issues," wrote PW. Ages 12-up. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved"
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved