Sunday, September 17, 2006


Rash by Pete Hautman. 2006.

The Plot: It's the future, and it's safety first all the way. And no hurt feelings. Well, basically anything that anyone has ever thought could be bad, or is bad, is also illegal. Take Bo's dad, who is in prison for road rage: yelling and banging his fist on a car. It's a problem having a parent in jail; but, it's not uncommon since 24 percent of the population is in jail. Break a rule, go to jail.

Bo is falsely accused of spreading a rash at school, loses his temper, and goes to jail. Once there, his assigned work is to make frozen pizzas. But something else is going on; the warden likes football and has started an elite football squad. Bo's about to find out the real meaning of competition.

The Good:

Competitive sports are either outright illegal (such as football) or so heavily regulated and full of safety equipment that the sport is practically unrecognizable. Bo runs; but here he explains all the safety equipment:
Back when Gramps was in high school, kids ran faster. Gramps claimed to have run 100 meters in 11 seconds, and the mile in 4:37. That was before the Child Safety Act of 2033. Now every high school runner has to wear a full set of protective gear -- AtherSafe shoes with lateral ankle support and four layers of memory gel in the thick soles, knee pads, elbow pads, neck brace, tooth guard, wrist monitor, and an FDHHSS-certified sports helmet. We raced on an Adzorbium® track with its five centimeters of compacted gel-foam topped by a thick sheet of artificial latex. It's like running on a sponge.
Rash is well written; but it also offers plenty for book discussions. Here is Bo explaining why prisoners have to work:
Of course, without [prisoners], there wouldn't be anybody to do the manual labor that makes this country run. Without penal workers, who would work the production lines, or pick the melons and peaches, or maintain the streets and parks and public lavatories? Our economy depends on prison labor. Without it everybody would have to work -- whether they wanted to or not.
I recently read Inexcusable by Chris Lynch. Which I need to blog about; I did like it. But the book gave me a sense that organized sports equals bad, and I have read reader's comments that said that organized sports encourages or creates bad behavior in boys. So it was a relief to read Rash, and to read something that is a defense of football; a defense of it as an outlet, that competition can be good. Hautman also has some negatives (jocks pushing non-jocks around), but he does not label the sport itself as negative.

Rash is a world that has tried to legislate away violence, anger, aggression and hurt feelings; and the repercussions are serious. And humorous. All those things are part of life; and people, and their society, become ill when they try to suppress these feelings, legislate against the feelings, and remove any type of outlet for those emotions.

What else is good: this is a dystopia, but it's much funnier and more light hearted than Feed. There is a lot of "wow, people were so odd in the old days, can you believe what they thought or did." And since that is something people think now about people in the old days, it's funny (while giving one something to think about). Some of the humor also comes from the surprisingly little reveals about the future; Bo, for example, is short for Bono. Cracks me up that kids in the future will be named Bono.

Links: Publishers Weekly interview with Pete Hautman (interesting because Hautman isn't himself a "team sports guy" yet the team sports part is so great!) Author's blog.


Erin said...

Oooh, I'll keep that in mind for my brother, it sounds like something he'd like! (And he is so very hard to find books for.....)

Anonymous said...

I liked this book, too. I have a real weakness for dystopian stories - I don't know where it comes from, but I simply can't resist them. I also loved the character of the AI that he created.