Scott Westerfeld starts the introduction to MIND RAIN with a spin on the classic quote "it takes a village to raise a child": "it takes a village to read a book." In other words, the author is not the definitive authority on the interpretation of a piece of literature. Just as every person in the proverbial village teaches the child something new, every reader brings their own unique perspective on the book to the table, and it is the discussion of these personal takes and ideas that prolongs the life of a book past the moment when the last page is turned, and moves the embedded themes from the realm of imagination to that of reality. Capitalizing on this idea, MIND RAIN is a collection of essays by contemporary Young Adult authors that continues that discourse on many of the issues that were raised by Westerfeld in his science fiction UGLIES series.
In a series of short essays that are interesting, if occasionally single-minded, YA authors weigh in on topics as diverse as identity, power, slang, and the teenage remix culture; why Shay is actually a better hero than Tally; whether David and Zane had competition in Shay; which of the two boys was better boyfriend material; how Tally measures up to heroines of fairytales past; whether Tally and Dr. Cable have more in common than meets the eye; how Tally's trickster character makes her the perfect catalyst for social change; conformity, individuality, and the similarities between Tally's society and modern Japan; the role of science and science propaganda in the UGLIES series; and the role of propaganda in general, both in the Prettytime and today. Even on the topics that are covered by several authors, there is a rather wide range of perspectives covered, and a real diversity of opinion. Take Tally's on-again off-again boyfriend David: one author's essay revealed a seething hatred for him, another thought him a bit of a sucker, and a third gave him the (by comparison) overwhelming positive compliment that he was "a decent guy."
Though several of the essay seemed a bit common sense to me, I thought that the two essays that focused on Shay (the series' sidekick figure) were incredibly insightful and well-done. "Best Friends for Never" by Robin Wasserman in particular was eye-opening. If you are anything like me, you probably didn't question too much the assumption that Tally was the hero of Westerfeld's trilogy. After reading Wasserman's essay, however, I wasn't so sure. And that is the main point of this collection: to get you thinking about aspects of the series that hadn't crossed your mind before, or else to take a closer look at those issues that had.
In addition, Westerfeld includes two short stories that were the fundamental inspiration for the series: "The Beautiful People" by Charles Beaumont, and "Liking What You See: A Documentary" by Ted Chiang. It was cool to see the translation of certain elements of these stories into the backbone for an entire best-selling series. Chiang's story in particular gave a really comprehensive look at the different sides of the issue of perceiving beauty, which is one of the fundamental themes of the series.
A note to Kindle readers: I'm not sure if this was only on the Kindle, but the footnote system that was used for this book resulted in an annoying underlining of all of the phrases that were footnoted. Also, because these footnotes were at the back of the book, it was a pain to try to read them while reading the essays they referred to. This might just be because I haven't figured out the Locations function on the Kindle yet, but I imagine it would still be annoying for people reading the book version to constantly have to flip back and forth to read the footnotes, some of which are rather funny. Thankfully the volume of footnotes drops off quite a bit after the beginning few essays.
Recommendation: I would recommend this book for anyone who is interested in continuing the discussion surrounding the much talked about UGLIES series. Though some essays were perhaps overly simplistic, there are some definite gems in here and some very thought-provoking insights. Good job Westerfeld and friends, stay bubbly!