When it comes to books that are engaging, some people say, “I couldn’t put this book down!” And you know they probably don’t literally mean it, but you get the point. Well, in the case of Vicious Is My Middle Name, by Razorcake’s own Kevin Dunn, this is entirely true. I stayed up about two hours past my bedtime and read the entire book in one sitting. I actually had to take a melatonin afterward to help me fall asleep because I was so engrossed by the content.
Kevin’s debut novel is about a middle school aged girl, Sydney Vicious Talcott, whose mother has moved the two of them from Rochester, New York, to Western North Carolina to live with Sydney’s grandparents. They’re trying to start their lives over since Sydney’s dad died. However, as a punk with dyed hair, Doc Martens, and sporting a lot of band T-shirts, Sydney feels out of place in a fairly rural setting. There aren’t any punk kids around and she’s teased relentlessly by the girls at school. Eventually Sydney settles in and finds some connections but new problems arise when an asphalt plant is scheduled to be built near the school and she decides to fight back.
The prose is smooth throughout the book. The dialogue is tight and the characters realistic. I appreciate Kevin’s attempt to show diversity through the main characters’ backgrounds and being aware of the challenges they face based on their gender, skin color, and/or immigration status. For those of us who fall into the punk camp, we’ll appreciate Sydney’s love for musicians like Alice Bag and Jabber, while she often channels her inner Joan Jett. But for those unfamiliar with the ideas of DIY and punk, Kevin uses Sydney to explain them in a clear, concise manner and does so without talking down to the reader. Sydney convinces her peers of the power of zines, the DIY ethic, organizing, and fighting back against corrupt power structures. And in doing so, she has the reader buy into these ideas should they not know about them.
Normally in my book reviews, I highlight the pros and try to offer helpful critiques for the deficits. In the case of Vicious Is My Middle Name, I have none. This is a wonderful book both for teens and adults. I would love to see this made into a movie or TV series. I’ve always thought Kevin’s narrative writing in Razorcake and his books are top notch, but it’s wonderful to see he’s also a solid fiction writer. Kevin, you owe me a few hours of sleep, but it was well worth it to read this fantastic book. –Kurt Morris (Fitzroy Books, regalhousepublishing.com)