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Meet vegan superhero Vivian Sharpe

VivianSharpeAlthough written primarily as a Young Adult novel, The Adventures of Vivian Sharpe, Vegan Superhero by Marla Rose has plenty of appeal for grown-ups too, as Ruby Hamad found out.

15 April 2012

The popularity of the Young Adult fiction genre shows no sign of abating, as demonstrated by the recent film release of The Hunger Games, based on the novel of the same name. It has, however, largely passed me by.

When I think of all the classics I have yet to see through to the end – cough, Ulysses, cough – I can’t justify spending precious reading time on novels about and aimed at young people. Particularly when the offerings are vampires, trolls, dystopian futures or a mixture of the above.

But when the opportunity arose to review Marla Rose’s debut novel, The Adventures of Vivian Sharpe, Vegan Superhero, I put my hand up. Talk about throwing yourself in the deep end. I went into it pleased at the fact the plot centred on intelligent and fiercely independent young women (and with nary a vampire to be seen), but also nervous, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t want to put it down almost as soon as I picked it up.

First, let me get this out of the way: I’m not crazy about the title. Sure, it pretty much nails the entire story in one easy sentence, but given the almost ‘swear-word’-like status ‘vegan’ often carries in the wider community, it strikes me as perhaps risking alienating a good portion of potential readers before they have even flipped the cover.

But having said that, the book itself is a pleasure to read, and it would be a shame if readers do overlook it for these reasons.

The lead character, Vivian Sharpe, is an ordinary small-town American girl who finds herself visited in the dead of night by the spirit of a dead pig, Tolstoy, a clever nod to the vegetarian Russian literary giant. Tolstoy politely informs Vivian that she had, just a few hours previous, consumed his mortal remains in the form of a ham sandwich.

That’s where the ‘vegan’ part of the title comes in. In that this titbit of information turns Vivian into one literally overnight.

The ‘superhero’ follows shortly after, as Tolstoy informs her that she has been chosen to carry out some very important life-saving tasks. This novel, which appears to be written as the first in a series, focuses on Vivian’s battle with a biotech company that is secretly dumping toxic waste in the water supply.

Rose’s choice of battle is an intriguing one. The word ‘vegan superhero’ conjures up an image of a teenager battling to save animals from the slaughterhouse, rather than the environment from an ‘evil’ corporation. By choosing this subject matter, Rose is cleverly seizing on the link between how we treat animals, how we treat the planet and how we treat ourselves. The toxic waste in question is a threat to wildlife and, without giving too much away, the company behind it is also a threat to humans and the planet in more ways than one.

Vivian Sharpe’s almost Nancy Drew-like determination to get to the bottom of who has been poisoning the water and why, challenges the notion that veganism is simply a lifestyle choice or dietary preference. Rather, Rose firmly casts it as a political movement that actively seeks social change and justice.

Rose is a veteran of the vegan and animal advocacy community in Chicago. She founded pioneering web vegan magazine, Vegan Street, way back in 1998, and more recently, the Chicago Vegan Family Network, a Facebook group where parents share tips on raising vegan kids and hold monthly family pot luck dinners. She’s also the voice behind the well-respected Vegan Feminist Agitator blog and contributor to a plethora of vegan magazines including VegNews.

Thankfully, Rose inserts her own personal politics into her novel without resorting to didacticism. Heroine Vivian comes across as someone who genuinely wants to help people just as much as she wants to save animals.

The novel also serves as a sort of guidebook for new vegans and is peppered throughout by information on foods to eat, foods to avoid, how to make sure you’re getting the right nutrients and so on. In short, this book would appeal to young vegans and those curious about veganism and may even cure the prejudices of some of those sitting on the fence.

One aspect the book doesn’t explore in much depth, however, is how a sudden transition to veganism can affect familial relations. While Vivian’s parents are clearly concerned at her behaviour, I would have liked to see a little more time spent on the family’s reaction to Vivian’s sudden change, such as how they respond to Vivian’s obvious distress when they eat meat in front of her. Most importantly, what her parents actually cooked for her and if her food choices had any influence on their own.

In the sequel perhaps?

The Adventures of Vivian Sharpe, Vegan Superhero by Marla Rose is available in a range of e-book formats. Price: USD $3.99 from Smashwords. For more information visit the book’s website. You can also view the trailer for the book on Youtube.

Ruby Hamad is associate editor at The Scavenger.

Image: via Vivian Sharpe.

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