A Review of Douglas Coupland and Graham Roumieu’s Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young People

This book includes seven quirky, moral-less tales by Douglas Coupland with gorgeously alarming illustrations by Graham Roumieu:

1. Donald, the Incredibly Hostile Juice Box
2. Sandra, the Truly Dreadful Babysitter
3. Hans, the Weird Exchange Student
4. Brandon, the Action Figure with Issues
5. Cindy, the Terrible Role Model
6. Kevin, the Hobo Minivan with Extremely Low Morals
7. Mr. Fraser, the Undead Substitute Teacher

Now, I read Coupland’s writing with quite a substantial bias. I’ve spent most of my time since 16 trying to be a character from one of his novels: trying desperately to convince my friends to sit around and tell character-revealing stories to one another. What I love is the liveliness of the characters in unpredictable situations while grounded in the technological world that I know. However, I knew from the nature of this book that it would be very different. I suspected this book would have a shocking quality and possibly make a cringe-worthy read but I trusted Coupland to come through with the witty goods.

These stories are twisted children’s tales. They have the dark peculiarity of Tim Burton’s Oyster Boy mixed with the cringe-craving teenager watching Happy Tree Friends. (Watch at own risk).
For instance, the last story about the undead substitute teacher, Mr. Fraser who asks his class to describe which of their classmates would taste the best and why.

I have to say the book only got a simple smile from me throughout the first two stories. I was immune to the oddness and I wanted to be shocked. I wanted something more than strange, menacing characters and no happy endings. Fortunately, the story of the German exchange student gave me chills. It was set in a high school, where a strange student would pick up the leftovers in the cafeteria. One day he was followed by two of the popular cheerleaders, suspicious of his doings. The dialogue is stilted like a children’s tale but in a way that it poked fun at school hierarchy: “Oh don’t worry Hans, we never talk about anything really,” one of the girls confesses to him.

On that note, what I really love about Coupland (in all of his novels) is the way he can make me love or hate a character with one simple pop culture reference. So, while I was reading these bizarre stories about live dolls, action figures and minivans, I was delighted when a boy’s mother was shopping for TED conferences at the video store because she felt being a mother was consuming her and she wanted to feel like a person again. The solid reality amongst the absurd is what he does best and despite this book being a whole different species to the pop culture postmodern novels he normally writes, it still had the Coupland charm. It still throws in the iPhone and the dating sites and consumer culture. It has the real problems and the real realizations amongst the crazy characters, which makes these stories even further inappropriate for young people. [Spoiler] What child with a bright future ahead of them wants to hear that the minivan has given up on his dreams?

However, in my opinion, this story became more rewarding with every flick through.

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Editor: Holly Duffy

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