Average Vegan Teen by Christen Mailler

Once you get beyond the nail polish, Midnight Kitten eyeliner, selfies and bubblegum of the beginning, (which, in truth, could do with a bit of a haircut,) the magic really starts to happen. Cusping 13, Kessa reluctantly heads out to her dad’s lakeside, wilderness home in Maine for the summer, and unexpectedly discovers that she has The Gift. The living world responds to her. Animals approach her, naturally trusting her and talk to her mind to mind, (our ancient, cross-species, prelimbic telepathy,) and she to them. They show her who they really are: intelligent, individuated, relational beings, with their own agency, wants, needs, personalities – and purpose. From Bucky, the beloved, family dog, to Mihku, a wild squirrel and Sippy, a sparrow (Kessa’s animal guides,) they tell her their stories. They are her allies too: Moxie, a rainbow trout, helps save a drowning toddler, signalling to Kessa mind to mind, image to image, where Daisy has fallen in the vast Wabanaki lake. 

Kessa is an empath and an animal communicator, in the very real vein of Anna Breytenbach, Pea Horsely and Maureen Rolls; and she is also a healer (it is clear): all the plants respond to her gentle, natural touch and, at times alarmingly, grow and burgeon in an instant! 

This is wonderful, aspirational, New Paradigm, teen lit, as appealing to younger readers as it will be to teenagers (and adults too.) There’s all the thrill, excitement and flushed anticipation of first love with Arthur, and a real sense of coming of age. There are painful moments too, of course: the shattering realities of parental abandonment and divorce, the death of Bucky – and when Kessa feels the grief of a young bull who, forced to wear an abominable, spiked nose ring as a calf, was stopped from suckling his mother’s milk (so that we humans could steal it,) inadvertently hurting his mother so badly she was forced to kick him away. He miraculously escaped the slaughter-truck: “Time to send them off!” – fleeing the long line of terrified, male babies by bolting and hiding out in the woods. But he saw all his bovine brothers go, and he heard the devastated wailing of their mothers: “A strained wail echoed around the farm.” It is a moment he can never forget, but Kessa helps him with his depression, (and opens our eyes, hearts and minds in the process.)  Kessa and Arthur come to the aid of a sad, lonely and hungry alpaca too. They feed her apples, carrots and bananas under cover of night and liberate her to far better circumstances at a local animal sanctuary, with the eventual cooperation of the old man who just didn’t know how to look after her and totally neglected her.

There is a beautiful sense of teenage empowerment here – and the motivation to do the right thing, to go the extra mile when anyone vulnerable is in need – whether it be a toddler, a bull, or an alpaca.  Kessa manages to get the Green Corn Festival fireworks (which terrify and harm so many of Wabanaki’s birds and other animals,) to commit to a laser show instead. (She’s a budding writer and she puts it to good use.) A loving ethics is at the forefront here. This is inter-species cooperation at its best, and an inspirational clarion call, delivered via a gripping, page-turning story. Kessa’s veganism is no ‘fad’ and we really get to understand that, to see that it is the only humane and just way to live.

I’ve been vegan for 16 years, but my tofu will be scrambled with turmeric and onion salt from now on, and my cakes will be baked with apple-sauce! This wonderful, teen adventure and skin-tingling, lake-side romance, is not only peppered with compassion and wisdom, it has some great tips too!

Heidi Stephenson





By Heidi Stephenson

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