Anderson, M. T.
M. T. Anderson
Born November 4, 1968, in Cambridge, MA; son of Will (an engineer) and Juliana (an Episcopal priest) Anderson. Education: Attended Harvard University, 1987; Cambridge University, B.A., 1991; Syracuse University, M.F.A., 1998.
Office—Union Institute & University, Vermont College, 36 College St., Montpelier, VT 05602.
Writer. Candlewick Press, Cambridge, MA, editorial assistant, 1993-96; Boston Review, intern; WCUW-Radio, disc jockey; Union Institute & University, Vermont College, Montpelier, VT, instructor in M.F.A. program in writing for children, 2000—.
Boston Globe/Horn Book Nonfiction Honor, 2002, for Handel: Who Knew What He Liked; National Book Award finalist, National Book Foundation, 2002, Best Book for Young Adults selection, American Library Association, Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book for Fiction, and Los Angeles Times Book Award, all 2003, all for Feed.
Thirsty, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1998.
Burger Wuss, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1999.
Handel: Who Knew What He Liked, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.
Feed, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
Strange Mr. Satie, Viking Penguin (New York, NY), 2003.
The Game of Sunken Places, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.
Just Me, All Alone, at the End of the World, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), in press.
Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including Improper Bostonian, BBC Music, Pulse!, and Cobblestones. Contributor of short story to Open Your Eyes: Extraordinary Experiences in Far Away Places, edited by Jill Davis, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
Work in Progress
A gothic novel for adults about the textile industry in nineteenth-century New England.
Author M. T. Anderson is noted for his young adult novels that challenge readers to look at the world in new ways. "Writing is a kind of weakness, I think," he once explained. "We write because we can't decipher things the first time around. As a reader, I like best those books in which the author, mulling things over for him or herself, enables readers to see a world anew." Anderson's novels, such as Thirsty, about a teenage vampire, Burger Wuss, about revenge in a fast-food restaurant, or Feed, about rebellion against futuristic media control of the world, use wit and satire to jab at contemporary society. "We are so used to the bizarre images, cabals, rituals, and rites that constitute our lives that they seem natural, even invisible, to us," Anderson once remarked. "I admire books that facilitate renewed awareness of the way we live, and this is what I'm
attempting in my own work: renewed awareness both for myself and, I hope, for my readers. That's my goal, in any case."
M. Tobin Anderson began writing at an early age. He told Heidi Henneman of BookPage.com that "from when I was little, I always knew it was something I wanted to do." By the time he was a teenager, he was writing stories and submitting them to publishers. "At least it got me used to the series of rejections that come along with a writer's life," Anderson admitted to Henneman. After attending college, Anderson worked at the Candlewick Press as an editorial assistant. In his spare time, he wrote a novel. When he was finally finished with it, he dropped it on his boss's desk. As Henneman observed: "The ploy worked: within a year, the book was published and his career as a writer had begun."
Publishes First Novel
Anderson's debut novel, Thirsty, set in a small town in Massachusetts, features a high school freshman named Chris who realizes that he is on the verge of growing into a vampire—despite his town's very elaborate and ritualistic attempts to fight the dreaded monsters, which seem to reap a steady New England harvest. "Chris's turbulent transformation . . . is paralleled by and inextricable from the changes of adolescence: insatiable appetite, sleepless nights, and a deep sense of insecurity and isolation," noted Horn Book reviewer Lauren Adams, who added: "The unusual blend of camp horror and realistic adolescent turmoil and the suspenseful plot affirm a new talent worth watching." A Kirkus Reviews critic also praised Thirsty, calling it a "startling, savagely funny debut," and School Librarian's Julie Blaisdale found the work "at once creepy and yet extremely funny." In Publishers Weekly, a reviewer concluded that Thirsty is a "vampire novel a bloody cut above the usual fare" despite some flaws in the plot.
The young adult novel Burger Wuss takes place in a setting that is both disturbing and familiar. The teenage narrator, Anthony, is set upon getting revenge on another teen who has "stolen" his girlfriend. The other teen, Turner, is a hot-shot worker at the local burger joint, and by getting a job at the fast-food restaurant, Anthony plots his revenge. The novel was based in part on Anderson's own disastrous experience. He explained in a biography posted at the Candlewick Press Web site, "When I was a teenager, I worked at McDonald's. On my first day, I had to go into the women's room and sponge up something that looked like an industrial disaster. I was almost fired for putting up a
sign on the door that said Out of McOrder. The whole experience went downhill from there." According to a Publishers Weekly critic, "Anderson's witty tale of a lovelorn boy and his corporate antagonists is both a tasty read and a stinging satire." Also focusing on the novel's abundant "black humor and satire," Booklist's Jean Franklin cited "a marvelous parody of a television commercial" for particular praise, and Horn Book reviewer Peter D. Sieruta likewise commented on Anderson's "eye for the dark and demented aspects of everyday life," which through Anthony's narration "serves up a lot of laughs."
A Frightening Future
With Feed, Anderson goes one step further, taking readers into a more distant and frightening future in which the media controls the world and everyone is linked into a common network through an electronic feed inserted in the brain. Titus, like other typical teenagers, is connected to the educational system, entertainment, merchandise, and friends through this feed. With this constant information stream, there is little need to speak, read, or write. While vacationing on the moon with a group of friends, Titus meets Violet, who has been home-schooled and is skeptical of the benefits of technology. When hackers temporarily disconnect the vacationers' feeds and Titus wakes up in the hospital, he experiences silence for the first time. Violet tries to recruit him to resist the feed and all that it implies, but he is unable to reject his previous lifestyle. In a biography posted at the Candlewick Press Web site, Anderson explained the motivation behind Feed: "I wanted to depict how soul-destroying it is to be part of this media world that appears to be very inviting, but which in fact tends to strip away the eccentricities of personality and encourage people to become a market, rather than a human."
Reviewers saw much to like in Feed, particularly Anderson's wit and imagination. Among the work's enthusiasts are a Kirkus Reviews contributor, who called it "satire at its finest," and a Publishers Weekly critic, who described Titus as a "believably flawed hero" and the work a "thought-provoking and scathing indictment." According to Elizabeth Devereaux, writing in the New York Times Book Review, Feed is "subversive, vigorously conceived, [and] painfully situated at the juncture where funny crosses into tragic." Although, as Sharon Rawlins of School Library Journal remarked, "Violet and her father are the only truly sympathetic characters," the work as a whole, she asserted, is a "gripping, intriguing, and unique cautionary novel." Several reviewers noted Anderson's use of language, particularly his tone and creation of original language. "Anderson's hand is light throughout; his evocation of the death of language is as hilarious as it is frightening," wrote Horn Book's Lauren Adams. "Inventive details help evoke a world that is chillingly plausible," she continued. "Like those in a funhouse mirror, the reflections the novel shows us may be ugly and distorted, but they are undeniably ourselves." Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award, Feed was a finalist in the competition for the National Book Award, as well as a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book and an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults selection.
In 2004 Anderson published The Game of Sunken Places, a fantasy adventure story in which two thirteen-year-old boys, Brian and Gregory, go to visit Gregory's eccentric Uncle Max. When they arrive at Uncle Max's estate, which is still lit by gas lamps, the servants give them 19th-century clothing to wear, and then burn their old clothing. The mystery grows deeper as the boys find themselves involved in a complex board game that has come strangely to life. Trolls, elves, and other fantasy creatures are suddenly real, as are the dangers of murderous ogres. A warning they receive only intensifies the enigmatic nature of their situation: "The grown-ups are involved in unforgiveable things, and making you their pawns." Jennifer Mattson in Booklist called the novel "deliciously scary, often funny, and crowned by a pair of deeply satisfying surprises." "Dexterously juggling a seemingly impossible profusion of elements," according to the critic for Publishers Weekly, "the author builds to a climactic series of surprises that, exploding like fireworks, will almost certainly dazzle readers."
Anderson has expressed his interest in music as a reviewer for BBC Music and through two picturebook biographies of composers, eighteenth-century German-English composer George Frideric Handel and twentieth-century French composer Erik Satie. Handel: Who Knew What He Liked illustrates much about the life of Handel through anecdotes told in a "saucy style, [with] impeccable pacing, and a richness of content," in the words of Wendy Lukehart of School Library Journal. One such anecdote is how the young Handel, whose parents did not want him to become a musician, smuggled a clavichord into the attic of his parents' house. Others give background on the composition of such works as the Music for the Royal Fireworks, which bombed upon its first performance, his failure as an opera composer, and the creation of the Messiah oratorio, which earned the composer lasting fame. Several reviewers commented on the appropriateness of Anderson's language and tone, including a Publishers Weekly contributor, who dubbed the work "wittily irreverent." Using "plain words and short sentences," Anderson tells about Handel's life "with warmth and color, humor and humanity," stated Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan, and in Horn Book, Mary M. Burns, who deemed Handel "worthy of a standing ovation," praised Anderson's balanced tone and "lively text, sufficiently detailed but not overburdened with minutiae."
If you enjoy the works of M. T. Anderson
If you enjoy the works of M. T. Anderson, you may also want to check out the following books:
Robert Cormier, The Chocolate War, 1974.
Margaret Peterson Haddix, Among the Hidden, 1998.
Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, Demon in MyView, 2000.
In Strange Mr. Satie, Anderson continues his foray into the lives of famous men in music, using his "offbeat," but compelling, storytelling skills, claimed Booklist contributor GraceAnne A. DeCandido. An unusual man, French composer Erik Satie is perhaps not as well known as Handel, but he is noted for his influence on modern music as well as for his interesting lifestyle, once throwing his girlfriend out of a window, never bathing with soap, and displaying a general disdain for rules, be they of music or society. Again, critics found Anderson's narrative
style well suited for a biographical work. Writing in Horn Book, Lolly Robinson claimed, "Anderson's words flow naturally and hypnotize the reader with oceanic rhythms." Similarly, DeCandido remarked that the author's "text has a fine rhythm, and it doesn't shirk at the strangeness" of the composer's life. Pointing out that the author's text closely mirrors Satie's own circular musical style, School Library Journal's Jody McCoy found Strange Mr. Satie "a splendid alliance of topic, text, and illustration, produc[ing] a hauntingly compelling biography."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, November 15, 1999, Jean Franklin, review of Burger Wuss, p. 613; December 15, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of Handel: Who Knew What He Liked, p. 727; October 15, 2002, Frances Bradburn, review of Feed, pp. 400-401; January 1, 2003, review of Feed, p. 795; November 1, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Strange Mr. Satie, p. 512; April 15, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of The Game of Sunken Places, p. 1452.
Book Report, September-October, 1997, Charlotte Decker, review of Thirsty, p. 30.
General Music Today, winter, 2002, Richard Ammon, review of Handel, p. 31.
Horn Book, May-June, 1997, Lauren Adams, review of Thirsty, p. 313; November, 1999, Peter D. Sieruta, review of Burger Wuss, p. 732; November-December, 2001, Mary M. Burns, review of Handel, pp. 767-768; September-October, 2002, Lauren Adams, review of Feed, pp. 564-566; September-October, 2003, Lolly Robinson, review of Strange Mr. Satie, p. 624.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1997, review of Thirsty, p. 56; September 15, 2001, review of Handel, p. 1352; September 1, 2002, review of Feed, p. 1301; June 15, 2004, review of The Game of Sunken Places, p. 575.
New York Times Book Review, November 17, 2002, Elizabeth Devereaux, review of Feed, p. 47; December 8, 2002, review of Feed, p. 74.
Publishers Weekly, January 27, 1997, review of Thirsty, p. 108; August 2, 1999, review of Burger Wuss, p. 86; October 15, 2001, review of Handel, p. 72; July 22, 2002, review of Feed, p. 181; September 1, 2003, review of Strange Mr. Satie, p. 89; July 12, 2004, review of The Game of Sunken Places, p. 64.
School Librarian, fall, 1998, Julie Blaisdale, review of Thirsty, p. 155.
School Library Journal, March, 1997, Joel Shoemaker, review of Thirsty, p. 184; December, 2001, Wendy Lukehart, review of Handel, p. 117; September, 2002, Sharon Rawlins, review of Feed, p. 219; October, 2003, Jody McCoy, review of Strange Mr. Satie, p. 143.
BookPage.com,http://www.bookpage.com/ (July, 2004), "Life-and-Death Competition in an Enchanted World: Interview with Heidi Henneman."
Candlewick Press,http://www.candlewick.com/ (July 28, 2004), biography of M. T. Anderson.
Scholastic Books,http://www2.scholastic.com/ (July 28, 2004), biography of M. T. Anderson.*