I picked up Mac Slater Hunts the Cool because I liked the cover. I didn't recognize the author's name, and didn't flip to the back flap to read about him - although I did read the author's note at the beginning, warning kids not to try flying without getting in touch with the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association - and then jumped right into the story. It's about a couple of geeky boys, Mac and Paul, who like to invent things like flying bicycles.
Mac is invited to be a coolhunter candidate, someone with his finger on the pulse of the hot new trends. He has a week to compete against Cat, a girl in his grade at school, posting a video online each evening for worldwide voting; the winner will get to go to New York City. Cat is someone Mac has had a crush on for a long time, but she's never acknowledged his existence. She's a mean one. And rich. She has plenty of underhanded tricks up her sleeve because her plan is to win at any cost. Meanwhile, Mac the underdog struggles with his own understanding of what is cool.
The combination of external and interpersonal action make this a story that has a wide range of appeal for readers in Grades 4 to 6. What shocked me was the realization, after I'd finished reading it, that it is set in Australia. I read the author bio on the back flap - Tristan Bancks is an author and filmmaker who lives on Australia's east coast - and then back to the verso to find the publishing info - Simon & Schuster, New York, 2010; originally published by Random House Australia in 2008 as Mac Slater, Coolhunter: The Rules of Cool.
I'm usually really good at picking up setting clues, yet I was certain that Kings Beach was a fictional California surfing town. I've been to Kings Beach on Australia's Sunshine Coast - I've even got a photo on my fridge right now, for god's sake, of me and my sweetie posed there. Yet it never occurred to me that this was an Australian book. In retrospect, there is the clue that the kids wore school uniforms. But that's the only thing I can think of. Huh! Another case of Americanization of literature from other countries. If you want to read my previous rant about this issue, see my post about Beautiful Malice.