So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld
The Plot: Hunter is a "cool hunter," always on the lookout for the Next New Thing. It's not that he's a victim to cool; rather, he's someone who gets asked to focus groups to decide whether a product and its ad campaign are cool or not cool. In his "pyramid of coolness", he's close to the top: a Trendsetter. At the top of the pyramid? Innovators, the people who do the things first who inspire others.
Hunter meets Jen, an Innovator, and finds himself falling for her -- and getting pulled into a mystery when his friend Mandy disappears. Missing people, sneakers so wonderful they take your breath away, weird ad campaigns, purple hair, a chase across rooftops -- Jen's an Innovator, and about to turn Hunter's life upside down.
The Good: Hunter's pyramid; starting at the top, Innovators; Trendsetters; Early Adopters; Consumers; Classicists; Laggards.
This is anti-consumer; but with its approach to how trends are invented and sift thru the culture, it also acknowledges the importance and impact of trends in people's lives. It's much more than "brands are bad," because some of what happens isn't brand-related.
It's about those people with the "shine" of new ideas, and those who honestly think those ideas are interesting, and how that trickles down. Yes, it's anti-consumerism; but I also think its anti-snobbery, skewering all levels of the pyramid. It laughs at both the person wearing last year's pants and the person jonesing this year's cell phone, but at the same time understands the want and need.
SY is also a solid mystery, as Hunter and Jen try to figure out what happened to Mandy and the bootleg sneakers.
Why is cool important? And brands? The thing is -- and its addressed in this book -- it isn't all shallow. Whether the author is right or wrong, I found interesting the history of such trends as neckties, and whether the American with Disabilities Act is responsible for current skate culture. "Trends" are about more than brands.
Different groups have different trends and different things that are cool. A "Logo Exile" may indeed be "anti consumerism," but isn't anti-trend or anti-cool. And if being an Innovator requires living in New York City and not the dreaded New Jersey ... Well, I'ld love to move to NYC myself. Maybe get a job in publishing. Have a cool studio (see, I'm not demanding!). But I'm well aware how expensive that is; and to have implicit throughout the book that those who are Innovators are those who can afford to live in NYC.... Well, isn't that just the biggest brand there is? The brand of living in NYC, at the right address? Is the Logo Exile who cannot stand to live in NJ any different from the person who will only buy certain brands?
And this is one of the things that is so cool about this book. It's not a black and white, you're shallow for liking x brand book. It's shades of gray, and its more show than tell, leaving the reader to reach his/her own conclusions.