________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 20 . . . . January 25, 2013


The Lewton Experiment.

Rachel Sa.
Vancouver, BC: Tradewind Books, 2012.
180 pp., trade pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-896580-97-2.

Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4



Sherri sat on the hood of the Mini. For a moment she debated whether or not to say anything about her Shopwells suspicions, since it might leave [Ben] thinking she was a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Finally, Sherri said, "I have to ask you a question, and it's going to sound a little nutty."

"Okay ..," Ben said, smiling as he slipped off his backpack and eased himself down next to her. "I like nutty. Sometimes I'm even partial to zany."

"First, though, no one in your family works at Shopwells, right? None of your friends?'

"Well, I
am my family", Ben said. "My folks headed out west for a job transfer a few months ago, so I'm it. Most of the guys I went to school with either left town or work at Shopwells. They're the only ones hiring these days. Why the inquisition?"

"Do you think it's possible that Shopwells is like ... some kind of cult?" She braced herself for Ben's laughter. But it never came.

of course it's like a cult, Sherri. Have you seen the way the people in this town have glommed onto that place? It's nuts. I can hardly go an entire shift at the diner without someone trying to show me what they bought there, or one of my old school friends trying to recruit me to work there. So what?"

"No, I don't mean
like a cult ... " Sherri said, trying to clarify. "I meant it is a cult. Like, there is something seriously weird going on there."

When 17-year-old Sherri got the job as a summer-intern reporter at The Post in Lewton, she thought she'd died and gone to heaven, at least until she got off the bus from Toronto. The town was shabby, dusty, ... and practically dead. She discovered that there seemed to be two groups of people in Lewton: those who worked for Shopwells and those who shopped there. Uncle Walter was one of the former, Aunt Gillian of the latter; Sherri who was boarding with them for the summer wasn't sure which made her more uncomfortable.

      It wasn't long before she realized that Shopwells was taking over the town completely, but her attempts to do a story on this were blocked by everyone from her editor to the Shopwells management -- who one would think would be all in favour of a feature article. Why did everyone in the store buy, buy, buy as if they were programmed zombies?

      Sherri's reporter instincts jump into high gear and she, with the help of Ben, apparently the only other non-brain-washed person in town, set to work to solve the mystery. And they do, with flair, ingenuity, and a bit of boy-girl interaction.

      It is very hard not to identify Shopwells with other big-box stores which have greeters, constant sales, and stupefying muzak in the background, interrupted from time to time by excited announcements of a "super-special in Aisle 13!!" (Naming no names, of course.) The taking of these characteristics to their extremist extreme makes this book a useful comment on our consumer society, but luckily, it does not take this role too seriously, and the result is a situation one can laugh both at and with, albeit somewhat ruefully. The main characters, Sherri and Ben, are reasonably developed and interesting -- the others are totally two-dimensional, as they are intended to be, since Shopwells has in essence succeeding in wiping out their third dimension. This makes for a somewhat uneven flow of narrative, but, on the whole, it is a fun read, and really, really creepy in spots!


Mary Thomas, who lives in Winnipeg, MB, shops at the big boxes only when absolutely essential.

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

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