Saturday, January 24, 2015

"My Chemical Mountain"

Corina Vacco trespassed on toxic land and wrote the first draft of her debut novel, My Chemical Mountain, while parked in her car at the foot of a radioactive landfill—this book went on to win the Delacorte Prize for a First Young Adult Novel, was a Bank Street Best Book of the Year, and made the shortlist for the 2014 Green Earth Book Award.

Vacco applied the Page 69 Test to My Chemical Mountain and reported the following:
My Chemical Mountain is a gritty, coming-of-age story about three boys whose lives have been poisoned, physically and emotionally, by a toxic landfill at the edge of their blue-collar town. The boys boldly swim in the chunky orange waters of Two Mile Creek, race their dirt bikes on Chemical Mountain, and claim the industrial yards as their territory. But the main character, Jason, quietly rages against wealthy and powerful Mareno Chem, the company that’s responsible for the gruesome death of his father and for the inescapable pollution that has seeped into every corner of Jason’s life. He wants revenge, but revenge comes with a price—and more than one person will pay…

From page 69:
It’s windy tonight. I stand under a busted streetlight at the edge of the industrial yards. I have on a black sweatshirt and my best jeans. I can’t stop moving, jumping in place, kicking little chunks of asphalt. I look in the direction of Val’s street, but it’s so dark, she could be ten feet away and I wouldn’t be able to see her. I turn toward the creek. Tonight the water is alien-green, softly glowing—it couldn’t have been more perfect. I wish I’d told Val to bring her swimsuit.

“Hey, you.” Val sneaks up behind me and puts her arms around my shoulders. “I brought sandwiches and a big bag of corn chips. I forgot something to drink, though.”

The last thing on my mind is food.

We climb through a torn section of the chain-link fence. Val snags the knee of her pink exercise pants, but she doesn’t make a big deal of it. We walk to the creek and sit quietly on the water’s edge.

“The water is so pretty tonight,” she says. “Is this what you wanted to show me?”

I turn on my flashlight and hand it to her. “Hold this for a second. I’ll be right back.”
Page 69 is representative of the book in setting and tone. It takes place at the edge of horribly-contaminated Two Mile Creek, the boys’ favorite summer hangout, and Jason thinks nothing of bringing a girl to its shores on a first date! This page also sets up one of my favorite scenes, in which Val pages through Jason’s sketchbook full of monsters, into which he’s channeled so much of his anger.

“You felt like this?” she asks him upon seeing the scariest monster of all. “Sometimes,” he tells her.

The next morning, Jason will break into the Mareno Chem building. But on this night, he’s not going to feel scared about that. On this night, there’s a first kiss, and Jason shows Val a special place hidden below the industrial yards…
Visit Corina Vacco's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue