Posted in Reviews

Review: PopCo by Scarlett Thomas

Title: PopCo

Author: Scarlett Thomas

PopCo tells the story of Alice Butler-a subversively smart girl in our commercial-soaked world who grows from recluse orphan to burgeoning vigilante, buttressed by mystery, codes, math, and the sense her grandparents gave her that she could change the world. 
Alice-slight introvert, crossword compositor- works at PopCo, a globally successful and slightly sinister toy company. Lured by their CEO to a Thought Camp out on the moors, PopCo’s creatives must invent the ultimate product for teenage girls. Meanwhile, Alice receives bizarre, encrypted messages she suspects relate to her grandfather’s decoding of a centuries-old manuscript that many-including her long-disappeared father-believe leads to buried treasure. Its key, she’s sure, is engraved on the necklace she’s been wearing since she was ten. Using the skills she learned from her grandparents and teaching us aspects of cryptanalysis, Alice discovers the source of these creepy codes. Will this lead her to the mysterious treasure or another, even more carefully guarded secret? 

5 stars

What an awesome book.
I know there are readers who don’t like it when the writer goes a little bit off-topic and spends ten pages explaining something from history, math, cryptoanalysis, or some other subject. But I love it. Or at least I love it if the writer is as good as Scarlett Thomas. She writes in such an interesting way, so even something I’m usually not curious about can seem like the most fun thing ever.
Throughout the book, there are flashbacks to Alice’s childhood, the time she lived with her grandparents, who thaught her a lot about math and cryptography (I love those chapters). Her relationship with her grandfather is amazing.
The book also deals with what it’s like working in a huge corporation, and getting people to believe that they really HAVE TO buy your product; also animal and human rights (which made me feel like a horrible person). It’s not a perfect book, but it made me think, and that’s very important.
It took me longer than usual to read this book, mostly because I would read something and than just kinda stare at the words, or run of to google something. Those lateral thinking puzzles made my brain hurt, but still. They’re fun.
There are some short parts of the book that are boring, especially when Alice and her cowrkers are learning how to play a new game. Playing it might be fun, but reading about every single move on the field isn’t.
When I just started reading the book, I found Alice quite annoying and snobish. The feeling never completely went away, because during the book she does/says/thinks some pretty dumb things (stuff about her being in love with Georges – WTF?).
Her relationship with Ben wasn’t very convincing to me, I just didn’t see much connection between them. But romance isn’t very important in this book, so I can forgive that.
The backcover on my copy says that the edition contains a new final chapter. I’m glad, because the new final chapter tells us how the big puzzle is finally solved.
In acknowledgements, Scarlett Thomas lists some of the books that she used while she was writing PopCo. Of course, now I want to read all of them.

Here’s the list: http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/2733854?shelf=popco

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