My Chemical Mountain

Book review by
Joe Applegate, Common Sense Media
My Chemical Mountain Book Poster Image
Boys take on a toxic waste dump in fast-paced story.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Industrial pollution of the sort described in stands as a lesson in corporate misbehavior, but barely mentioning the power of the EPA is a lesson lost. 

Positive Messages

The Great Recession looms large as the story repeatedly asks if a community can afford to stand up to its No. 1 employer. The answer is yes, because self-respect is important. "Now the chemical companies have to listen to us," says one of the company's opponents. "Now they can be afraid for once."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Eighth-grader Jason and his buddy Cornpup confront Moreno Chem when the adults around them, and by extension the EPA, are intimidated. Jason vows to avenge his father's death, but he is levelheaded enough to realize that besides his desire for revenge, he will need evidence to bring the company down. The boys display patience as well as courage when it counts. 

Violence

A drunken husband hits his wife in the face. 

Sex

Eighth-graders Jason and Valerie have a tryst but there's no sexual activity.

Language

"Ass" and "s--t" are each used once. Other profanities are rendered as "effing," "friggin'," "poop."

Consumerism

Jason's mom, grieving for her lost husband, tries to find happiness in eating junk food and becomes a sort of metaphor for joyless consumption. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A minor adult character abuses Jack Daniels. Some teens drink beer at a party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that My Chemical Mountain glorifies a group of boys' fight against pollution, as well as their daredevil antics in a poisoned landfill. Treating it as their backyard playground, Jason and his two friends hike, bike, and even swim in the hellhole. The descriptions, in lush detail, make the reader's skin crawl in a way some teens can't get enough of. ("Charlie showed up with two dead squirrel babies, joined at the head.") Jason's girlfriend plays a minor role in this adventure, which involves wider questions of community will. The absence of established safeguards against pollution -- the EPA is barely mentioned -- diminish the story's realism. The pacing is fast and the descriptions more gross than violent. One character dies of gas inhalation, and a drunken husband punches his wife. 

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What's the story?

Eighth-grader Jason and and two buddies, Charlie the jock and geeky Cornpup, get their kicks motorbiking and scavenging in a poisonous landfill near Lake Erie. Jason has vowed to avenge his father's death at the hand of Mareno Chem, which is hiding its illegal waste dumping. The pollution has given Cornpup a skin condition so severe he needs an operation. To raise money, Jason leads a clandestine tour of the landfill, where he and Cornpup catch Mareno Chem red-handed.

Is it any good?

The pacing is fast and the David-vs.-Goliath tone of the story gives the boys a heroic quality, but the lack of grown-up opposition to the illegal dumping of toxic waste makes it seem unrealistic. On another level, the story takes on the issue of a community standing up to a company that provides good jobs. The novel combines adventure and social activism in a feel-good yarn that's sometimes hard to believe. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the difference between revenge and justice. Why is revenge a common motivation in stories? 

  • Jason and his friends discuss whether working class is the same as poor. Is it?

  • Where's the most polluted place you could walk to? Drive to? Is anything being done to clean it up? 

Book details

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