Finding the secret recipe for the world’s most popular fizzy drink sets Queenie on a dangerous journey where she discovers that the true price of her favourite soda is just too high. Pop is a tale of media manipulation, corporate greed, consumerism and its environmental impact.
The secret formula for Mac-Tonic ™ – the world’s most popular soda – is lost. Within a few short days, panic ensues as people around the world rush to buy the remaining stocks of the addictive beverage before it runs out. The Great Thirst begins and within a couple of weeks the death toll mounts as people begin to fight to the death over the last available cans and bottles.
Queenie de la Cruz, herself a Mac-Tonic addict, lives with her mother and brother in North Nitch, California, on a stretch of beach which is strewn with litter and industrial waste. After seeing an older couple attempting to clean up the beach, Queenie decides it might take her mind off her cravings and begins picking up some of the hundreds of Mac-Tonic bottles that have washed up. Then she discovers a note in one of the bottles: the secret formula that the entire world has been hunting for. As soon as she mentions this to her family, three black helicopters appear on the horizon, bearing down on their house in a race to get to the formula. Queenie is then kidnapped and ends up on the run for her life as one of the most powerful corporations in the world urges everyone to hunt her down.
Pop is a fast-paced adventure story which explores several important themes: capitalism, corporate greed, media manipulation and the environmental impact of industry. Whilst a world addicted to high-sugar soft drinks may not seem so far from the truth, Mitch Johnson’s book sees capitalist politics and corporate greed taken to nightmarish proportions. In this world, the Statue of Liberty holds aloft a Mac-Tonic ™ bottle and the moon has become prime advertising space where the Mac-Tonic logo is projected. At one point, board members are disgusted to learn that only forty two percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of Mac-Tonic waste and demand that they aim for fifty one percent. They have also bought political influence through their donations, own media outlets which broadcast that Queenie is a criminal and are willing to kidnap, imprison, torture and kill to maintain their power.
Queenie is a smart character who is slowly weaned off her addiction to Mac-Tonic as she goes on the run, but most characters are portrayed in a very negative light. Her mother and brother are portrayed as overweight, screen and sugar addicts. Both children are ‘home-schooled’, but they spend their days watching TV or (in Queenie’s case) reading, while their mother plays online phone games and shouts at them when they argue or physically fight. Almost every other working-class character – shop assistants, waitresses, truck drivers – seems to be self-centred, rude and often lacking in intelligence. However, while I found this disparaging portrayal uncomfortable reading, Pop is supposed to be a vision of a world where sugar addiction and consumerism are destroying society, so it does fit the narrative.
There are also many American cultural references, such as Area 51, which may need to be explained to understand their relevance to the plot and the allusions that the author is making by referring to them. Guns and violence, or the threat of it, also feature regularly in the story.
The ambitious vocabulary, detailed plot and discussions of violence make Pop a book for children aged 11+. I would recommend it for Year 7 and over. The plot is engaging and the high stakes make it an exciting story which would be excellent for story time or a book club. It is a very good stimulus for discussion and writing regarding the environment, consumerism, media manipulation and capitalism’s role in the polluting of the planet and oceans. Children may be shocked to learn that many of seemingly far-fetched ideas are true, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and this would be a good jumping off point for research.
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