________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 8 . . . .December 8, 2006


Son of Interflux.

Gordon Korman.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 1986/2006.
282 pp., pbk., $9.99.
ISBN 0-439-93873-2.

Grades 5-10 / Ages 10-15.

Review by Ruth Latta.

**** /4



In the city, if you've got something to say, you go right ahead and say it, in five foot letters on the subway wall. On Long Island you don't say anything. You sit at home worrying because you didn't buy your kid a personal computer when he was three, so he won't get into the college of his choice... On Long Island you sleep through the alarm on your $1500 Piaget watch but some poor dog half a block away is driven crazy by the sound and smashes his head against a fence until his brains are scrambled.

I hate Long Island.

Simon, weary of the speech...said, "If you hate it here so much, why don't you move to the city?"

"Because my mother says if I move out before I graduate, no one's going to feed my fish."

"Oh." It was going to be a long semester.


Simon Irving has mixed feelings about life on Long Island. On the plus side, he is rich in material things, such as the Mustang his father bought him for his sixteenth birthday. On the minus side, his dad is senior vice president of Interflux, a powerful and uncaring megacorporation which is the principal employer in the area. Simon has just been accepted into Nassau Arts, a prestigious high school for the literary and performing arts, and he is afraid that he will become known as "Son of Interflux" before he has a chance to establish himself as a serious aspiring artist.

     Though Simon and his father get along well on a personal level, particularly as fellow-victims of Mrs. Irving's dietary notions, Simon does not want to follow in his dad's footsteps. Mr. Irving is devoting his life to manufacturing useless things and running the company for its playboy chairman of the board, Kyle Montrose, known in the Irving family as "The Flake."

      Interflux not only manufactures useless things but also pollutes the environment. The air quality near the school is poor, and a picturesque creek has begun to foam. In the past, Interflux's legal department always succeeded in getting the legal limits on pollution defined in its favour. Now, to Simon's chagrin, Interflux is planning to expand into a wooded area near the school.

      To add to his problems, Simon finds the eccentric teachers at Nassau High unnerving. The English instructor gives him a D, not because of the quality of his term paper, but because he feels that Simon hasn't "experienced psychic growth while writing this essay." In a seminar for a handpicked group of promising painters, the instructor, Quereda, savages student work and tells of aspiring artists who met with gloomy fates for failing to adhere to one artistic principle or another.

      Though Son of Interflux was first published in 1986, the serious issues it addresses (corporate power and environmental damage) are even more relevant now than when it was written. Their heaviness is lightened by author Korman's characters, the sort of madcap circle of school buddies that he is skilled in creating. One of Simon's friends persists in putting a camel in every picture he paints, much Quereda's annoyance, until the boy wins a special prize for a picture of a camel traffic jam.

      Montreal-born Gordon Korman burst upon the juvenile literature scene in the 1970s, at age 12, with the novel This Can't be Happening at MacDonald High, which began as an elementary school writing project and was published by Scholastic. While his early works tended to be a series of funny incidents strung together, Son of Interflux is more sophisticated. Simon and his privileged young friends would like to transcend the materialism of their lives and do something meaningful.

      Wendy, the student council president, who has a substantial surplus in her budget, bemoans the apathy of Nassau Arts students in volunteering to organize social events. Simon, who likes her, agrees to serve as treasurer, then uses student council funds to block Interflux. Using the name "I. Simon" and the business name "Antiflux", he purchases a patch of scrub and swamp that Interflux needs for its expansion. He and his buddies then post "No Trespassing" signs. Thus begins an interesting plot of move and counter-move.

      Since Interflux cannot expand without Antiflux's permission to drive trucks over this property, the former goes to the school administration, only to find that school officials will not interfere with the student council purchase. Next, Interflux retaliates through the tame town council which threatens Antiflux with a hefty fine for weeds on its landholding. At that point, Simon and his friends mobilize 600 Nassau Arts students, who never do any yard work at home, to cut the weeds.

      The next hurdle is a rezoning which requires Antiflux to engage in "commercial development." Simon comes up with the idea for a worm farm, rather than a lemonade stand which might require a restaurant licence. "A worm is a worm and the worst they can do is force us to get a licence to be a bait shop, and how much can that be?" In fact, the worm shop thrives and eventually expands into a theatrical and cultural centre featuring student performances.

      When Interflux makes its next move, and all seems lost, someone unexpected saves the day. Remember "The Flake?", Mr. Montrose, playboy chairman of the board? Korman introduced him at the beginning of the novel for a reason.

      As for Simon's artistic aspirations, his failure to win a key competition has a silver lining. Quereda consoles him by saying that his work was too innovative and experimental to be understood by the judges. "You remind me of Quereda!" the teacher declares. "Someday we will work together."

      Korman opts for "closure", a realistic ending with the principal characters getting some of the things they want, but not all. Simon reflects: "Sometimes the great organizing principle of the universe wasn't such a bad guy after all." Or, as some might say, "God is good."

Highly Recommended.

Ruth Latta's third mystery (for adults), Illusions Die, is soon to be published by Baico Publishing Consultants, baico@bellnet.ca.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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