“PopCo” by Scarlett Thomas is a send-up of consumer-society and corporate marketing at the expense of young people. All the characters are ‘cool because they’re uncool,’ hip twenty-somethings. If you are a deep-thinking young person who doesn’t want to be ‘branded,’ I’m recommending this book for you.
Alice Butler is sent to company retreat by her British employer, PopCo. PopCo is a market-savvy, cutting edge toy company that employs young, talented folks to get into the minds of children (they even have a ‘daycare’ at the retreat where little ones are market tested). An odd girl and loner for most of her life, Alice is recruited by PopCo because she is good at mathematical puzzles, code-breaking and cryptanalysis. Her new assignment is to create a product for the teenage girl market that will enrich the company. As a ‘POW’ at ‘thought camp’—the title for the company retreat—Alice journals about her own youth, the death of her mother, the desertion of her father, and her odd upbringing by loving, eccentric and super-smart grandparents. She reflects on a locket given to her by her grandfather which seems to contain the clue to an old puzzle—which in turn will lead to lost treasures. More and more, Alice realizes how deeply unethical the practices of PopCo are—and how she can break from the spell of the commercially-driven workplace.
I recommend this book only to mature readers because it has, besides the great code-breaking puzzles and fun information on cryptanalysis, a budding romance, characters who drink wine, and a few who smoke marijuana. I’m recommending it to my own 16-year-old son because he hates being ‘branded,’ but other parents might think their own teens are not mature enough to sort through the twenty-something lifestyle. (I figure that if I could read all that Sidney Sheldon sort of trash like “The Other Side of Midnight” when I was sixteen and suffer no character loss, a good book like “PopCo” is just fine.)
By the way, this is a long book—about 500 pages. I mention this because so many of you look for books that are 400 or more pages long.