Review: The Adventures of Vivian Sharpe, Vegan Superhero by Marla Rose
Disclaimer: I purchased this book myself, this review was not requested by anyone, and I receive no compensation for writing this review.
This book engaged me right from the start, as Vivian Sharpe, the 15 year old hero of the story, experiences something that creates an awareness of what (and specifically, who) the food she’d been eating really was. Though the development of that awareness was unusual – a dream in which she experiences the end of a life of a pig through his eyes, followed by a conversation with his spirit – the overall experience of the awakening is one that we can all relate to.
Most impressive to me in that opening scene was the brilliance in the way it was handled. I’ve talked quite a bit here about the use of graphic images, and my discomfort with them. Marla managed to paint an evocative picture with suggestion, but no gory details. Instead, she capitalized the fact that our imaginations are more than enough to form the picture ourselves. She simply set the scene, and pointed her readers’ minds in that direction, knowing we would do the rest.
I found this brilliant because, obviously, I had absolutely no wish to read another description of these things myself. But also, thinking about the potential “unawakened” readers, I wondered if this would reach them more effectively than if it had been described in horrible detail. If that opening passage had been handled differently I probably wouldn’t have continued reading, and I think Marla knew many would feel that way.
Throughout the book, Marla brings up difficult issues. Vivian learns first-hand about the impact environmental devastation has on animals, and she learns the power of taking action. She also learns second-hand the cascading impact of that same environmental devastation on humans. She deals with the reactions of her family and people in her school to the changes she’s made in her life, and later she deals with the reactions of the people in her town to the choices she made.
Even more fascinating to me was the fact that Marla brought up thorny issues that we see within the AR and Environmental movements, and that she handled them with an impressive deftness. The questions that no one can agree on – where to draw the lines, what tactics are acceptable, what tactics work best, etc – she didn’t provide answers for, rather she had a range of approachable characters who had come to their own conclusions based on their own experiences. Their stances were varied, and it was easy to sympathize with their reasoning. They had to work hard at times as a group to get beyond the fact that they didn’t agree on these issues. Most of the significant supporting characters were adults rather than teens, with the exception of Vivian’s best friend. This worked really well, especially when confronting the various opinions on the thorny issues. The adults had believable experiences that drove their beliefs, and the two teens were more open, and more undecided about where they stood.
I really liked that the ambiguity was allowed to stand. This is realistic, first of all, but it also allowed Vivian to grow and come to her own conclusions. She didn’t find her chosen course especially easy, and I liked that she didn’t find it perfectly clear-cut, ethically. It existed in a grey area, and this was acknowledged.
In the back of my mind as I read this book, I was thinking that this was a perfect book for young people coming of age as activists. Within this book they would have a chance to explore their own thoughts and feelings regarding some of the choices they’ll likely be facing in the future. If I were a parent (and I’m not, so take this with a grain of salt), I would feel very comfortable with the presentation of the grey-area choices, specifically because they weren’t glamorized and the consequences weren’t ignored. Far better to introduce these potential choices in such a thoughtful and thought-provoking way than to ignore them and hope they never come up, in my opinion.
Bottom-line: I highly recommend The Adventures of Vivian Sharpe, Vegan Superhero. It is an enjoyable read, an engaging story, but there is also a depth to it that will have you thinking about it long after you’ve finished reading it. That’s the adult perspective; I’d be interested to learn whether the YA audience feels the same as I did!
It is currently available only as an e-book, though print versions are expected to be available in April and audio books this spring.