A fairy tale of overwork

The New Policeman

KATE THOMPSON’S award-winning The New Policeman, aimed at middle- and high-school students, is a modern-day fairy tale that treats literally the question asked by overworked adults and overstressed children, “Where has the time gone?”

Fifteen-year-old JJ finds that time is leaking into another world and sets out to stop it, uncovering his family secrets in the process. The story moves between modern-day Kinvara, Ireland, and its fairyland counterpoint, whose residents fear that the flow of time will turn theirs into an anxious, greedy world, as they perceive JJ’s to be.

Because the plot is interwoven with traditional Irish musical traditions, complete with sheet music at the end of each chapter, most American readers will need to tolerate some unfamiliar language, despite the inclusion of a glossary. Yet many young readers happily rise to such challenges, as long as the story is good—and Thompson’s parable about the frenetic pace of modern society is. Despite its fantastical elements, the book’s style is far more upbeat than the gothic angst currently popular in young adult fiction.

Thompson’s implicit critique of profit-run societies, although very welcome, is not unique in children’s literature. What’s rarer is the low-key way she integrates political involvement into the backdrop of JJ’s family life. JJ’s parents, a committed couple, are unmarried by choice, and he and his sister have their mother’s last name. Their father won’t buy sweatshop shoes and heads off to his regular meeting of the local anti-war group. These facts aren’t belabored. They’re a normal part of the texture of family activities and values, just as similar ones are in real activists’ families.


Issue #71

May 2010

The education shock doctrine

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